Last week, the Keystone Pipeline sprung a leak near Freeman, South Dakota. This and other comparable events indicate we should be more skeptical of safety claims made by TransCanada and similar companies. We cannot allow them to take advantage of our ignorance.
The Keystone Pipeline System is a group of oil pipelines operated by TransCanada, a multinational corporation, which spans from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada all the way to the Gulf Coast.
Soon after the incident began, Keloland News, a local station in Freeman, reported in a story titled "TransCanada Crews Looking At Potential Pipeline Leak Near Freeman" that the leak was found when local residents spotted a strange, black substance on their properties. TransCanada quickly sent a crew to the site to find and repair the broken pipe.
According to a more recent article, "Keystone pipeline poised to reopen after leak found" from CNN, the leak was originally described as spilling less than 200 gallons of oil into the rural community. However, TransCanada later increased its original estimate to almost 17,000 gallons of oil. They have since stated the leak poses no serious health or environmental hazard and believe to have repaired the pipe.
This is beginning to look bad for TransCanada, a company whose website claims they "aim to be on the industry’s leading edge of corporate social responsibility and sustainable practices." Accordingly, sometime between Sept. 2015 and April 4 of this year, the day the spill was first reported, they deleted the content from the "Safe Operations" page of their Keystone XL website.
Using Way Back Machine, an online service which archives webpages, one can see that this page of their website used to extoll the virtues of their high-tech monitoring system, saying, "We use satellite technology that sends data to our monitoring centre every five seconds. If a drop in pressure is detected, we can isolate any section of our pipeline within minutes by remotely closing valves on the system."
If one visited the page after April 4, however, no content was present. Unfortunately, due to limitations of the service, we cannot know exactly when in this interval the content was deleted.
Perhaps this is just a coincidence. However, it is a rather odd coincidence at best since local residents were the first to spot the spill and not the company’s automatic detection system. This casts doubt upon claims that TransCanada has sufficient safety precautions in place to protect against spills in the future.
This is also not the first major accident to come from the pipeline. In 2011, a pump station in North Dakota spilled about 20,000 gallons of oil on TransCanada property. In "TransCanada Pipeline Spills Oil in North Dakota," the Wall Street Journal reports this was the 11th spill to result from the pipeline system. However, the article said company officials attributed such leaks to the equipment at pump stations and not to the integrity of the pipeline itself, which was supposed to be sound. The recent leak also calls such assurances into question.
This spill comes in the wake of intense debate about the Keystone XL pipeline. After years of deliberation, the Obama administration denied a proposal to allow the project last November, which was a proposed extension to TransCanada’s current system. According to the Keystone XL website, the project was meant to provide a shorter transport route from Alberta to Nebraska and allow for a larger volume of oil to pass through the region. The current pipeline takes a longer route through this
One of the groups most outspoken against the construction of Keystone XL is the community of Native Americans in the area, since the pipeline was supposed to go through lands currently occupied by many different tribes. For instance, Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network who wrote for the Guardian, said in 2015, "As the original caretakers, we know what it will take to ensure these lands are available for generations to come. This pipeline will leak, it will contaminate the water."
Leaks have continued to occur even on the body of the pipeline itself, and safety measures currently in place do not seem adequate enough to prevent or target such events. Moreover, these smaller events along the pipeline have a chance to occur on indigenous people’s land, endangering an already heavily marginalized group.
Even if the Keystone system is able to prevent large-scale disasters, we can see it is not foolproof.