An aerial view of the Keystone Pipeline spill in North Dakota, where an estimated 383,000 gallons of crude oil contaminated the site. The photo was shared with Indianz.Com by a resident of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation who used a drone to take footage of the spill after it occurred in late October 2019.

KXL oil spill in North Dakota

PIERRE – As tribal representatives and members took part in South Dakota’s Keystone XL Pipeline hearings October 29-31, a large oil spill into a wetland in neighboring North Dakota underscored testimony here against permitting the use of public water for construction of the private infrastructure.

“Water that is contaminated by an oil leak or spill is damaging at best – and deadly at worst – to the health of people, livestock, wildlife, and fisheries,” said Dakota Rural Action in response to the 383,000-gallon (9,000-barrel) spill of tar-sands crude oil, or diluted bitumen.

The leaking dilbit, a toxic material, caused a shutdown of the Keystone I Pipeline after discovery of the damage October 30, which affected wetlands near Edinburg, 75 miles northwest of Grand Forks, according to the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.

Dakota Rural Action objects to permitting Keystone I’s sister KXL Pipeline, as do Mniwakan Nakicijinpi (Lone Eagle family youth pipeline fighters), the Yankton (Ihanktonwan), Rosebud, and Cheyenne River Sioux tribal governments, the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance, and individuals from Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.

TC Energy Corp., formerly named TransCanada Corp., seeks nearly 167 million gallons of water over a two-year period from the Cheyenne, White, and Bad rivers for use in building and testing the tar-sands crude oil line.

In addition, separate individual well owners are seeking two permits to divert flow from Inyan Kara and Hell’s Creek underground water tables in order to assure supply for six man-camps -- squatter settlements for the transient workers from elsewhere who would be hired to install the line.

The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, DENR, has recommended the state Water Management Board approve all the water rights applications for surface and underground water requested for the hazardous materials pipeline.

TC Energy Corp. operates the Keystone I Pipeline from Canada to the Texas Gulf. It spilled dilbit more than a dozen times in 2011, the first year of operations.

“This most recent spill brings stark clarity to the fact that, despite lack of consideration by DENR staff in their recommended approval of these permits, the quantity of water available to downstream users is highly dependent on the quality of that water,” Dakota Rural Action said in a written statement.

Ihanktonwan Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Kip Spotted Eagle testified against surface water permits for KXL construction, because “the river is a traditional cultural property.”

In Billings, Montana, on October 29, pipeline fighters rallied in freezing 10-degree weather outside the venue of a U.S. State Department meeting about the latest Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for the project.

The rally, filled with participants carrying “Protect Our Water” and “No KXL” signs, afforded speakers public exposure denied by the meeting format. Rally goers traveled on icy roads from across Lakota Territory.

The DSEIS is crucial to the future of the Keystone XL Pipeline, since its finalization will influence permitting decisions from the Bureau of Land Management and the Army Corps of Engineers on a proposed Missouri River crossing of the pipeline.

The proposed site of the pipeline crossing is below the spillway of the Ft. Peck Dam, which releases water at up to 65,000 cubic feet per second, creating potential for “scour erosion” of the riverbed that could lead in turn to exposure of the buried infrastructure, making it “highly susceptible to leaks,” the Western Organization of Resource Councils said in a media advisory.

“I can tell you without a doubt that the Keystone XL Pipeline poses a direct threat to our water system,” said Bill Whitehead, chair of the Assiniboine and Sioux Rural Water Supply System on the Ft. Peck Indian Reservation.

“The site where the KXL Pipeline would cross the Missouri River is directly upstream from the intake for our drinking water. This provides water not only to all of Fort Peck, but also to communities further east of us. As many as 30,000 people could have their drinking water affected by a pipeline spill,” Whitehead said.

“We also have water intakes downstream from the proposed pipeline crossing that serve our irrigation system,” he said. “This irrigation system is part of a 100-year agreement with the U.S. government. We depend on this water to grow our food and take care of livestock. Our very existence is dependent on this water.”

Adding his opinion was Sen. Frank Smith of Poplar, Montana on the Ft. Peck Indian Reservation. “We know from history that the question is not if a pipeline spills but when,” he said. “This tar sands oil is dangerous stuff that is impossible to clean up when it leaks,” he added.

“Our water system will be destroyed by a KXL spill,” he predicted. “We refuse to sacrifice our water for the sake of a Canadian oil company.”

The South Dakota Water Management Board set another permit hearing for December 17-19.

The State Department is accepting public comments until November 18 on the new Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for TC's proposed Keystone XL pipeline project.


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