Resistance to Keystone pipeline continues after most recent spill, while South Dakota Public Service Commission warns TransCanada Inc that they could pull the permit allowing them to operate the pipeline in the state.
The Keystone Pipeline Network and Initial Resistance – A brief description
The Keystone Pipeline is a network of pipelines that carry oil from the Canadian tar-sands to refineries in the United States. It is owned and operated by TransCanada Corp., a Canadian company operating pipelines, storage facilities and power generation plants in Canada, the USA and Mexico. The operational sections of the Keystone network were constructed in three phases. Keystone Phase 1, runs from Hardisty, Alberta, through Saskatchewan, Manitoba, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, to a storage facility in Illinois. While the Keystone-Cushing Extension runs from a refinery in Steele City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma; and the Gulf Coast Extension runs from Cushing to refineries in Texas. TransCanada is currently attempting to build a controversial fourth phase of the Keystone network, also known as Keystone XL.
Resisting Keystone Phase 1 in South Dakota – A rough timeline
When TransCanada announced its intentions to construct the Keystone Phase 1 pipeline in February 2005, the proposed route ran through the Brown and Sprink counties of South Dakota. However, when TransCanada presented the proposed route of the pipeline to community members at the Clark Community center in November of 2005, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission and community members were surprised to hear that the pipeline was now proposed to run through Day and Marshall counties . TransCanada had not informed the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission of the proposed route change, and representatives had to field dozens of calls from concerned community members . The route was later changed again in 2006, at the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of conservation efforts .
In August 2007, the grassroots resistance to the pipeline intensified in South Dakota, as opposition groups learn that TransCanada had quietly been awarded a special permit by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to operate the pipeline at a heightened maximum operating pressure (MOP) . Normally, the MOP is limited to 72% of the stress level tolerable before deformation or failure of the pipeline, however, TransCanada had been granted the ability to operate the pipeline at an MOP of 80%. At the same time this information came to light, TransCanada was trying to block a request by Curt Hohn, an official running an operation that delivers treated water from Missouri to rural residents in South Dakota, and a leading voice among the opponents of the pipeline, to release all the names of the landowners along the corridor affected by the pipeline . Hohn and opposition groups wanted to be able to contact the landowners so that they could warn them of the possible dangers an operational pipeline and pumping stations could have on their land, which is something TransCanada obviously wanted to prevent them from doing. In the end, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission sided with opposition groups and publicly released the names of all those being affected by the pipeline .
In September of 2007, at a public hearing about the Keystone Pipeline, landowners and other opponents of the pipeline argued that the federal study by the U.S Department of State on the environmental, economic and social impacts of the project was incomplete, and should include the potential impacts of a newly proposed refinery in the state . Curt Hohn and other opponents argued that the proposed Elk Point Hyperion refinery should be analyzed in conjunction with the pipeline, insinuating that the two projects were ‘joined at the hip’ . At this time TransCanada denied any intention of supplying the refinery with tar-sands oil; however, that is no longer the case today, which casts doubt on whether or not the statements of TransCanada’s representatives were truthful . Others criticized the Governor, legislators, South Dakota members of Congress and county commissioners for not focusing on the concerns of landowners, and for not asking them if TransCanada was treating them fairly. Those landowners who had reached an agreement with TransCanada, were also not spared from criticism by more vocal opponents .
On September 12th, 2007, to the surprise of many, including the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, the procedural schedule for the permit hearing was announced without any objections from either side of the conflict . In the weeks leading up to the announcement, both sides had become increasingly confrontational. However, it had become apparent that the details of the process had been worked out in advance between the Public Utilities Commission’s lawyers, TransCanada’s local attorney and Curt Hohn and his attorneys representing WEB, the rural water delivery network he operates, during a phone conference . The addition of a surrebuttal in the procedural schedule, which made it so the Public Utilities Commission and ‘interveners’ (opponents) could rebut, after TransCanada’s rebuttal, was the key addition to the procedure, that allowed the planed schedule to go ahead without any objections . In December 6, 2007 there was an unsworn public input session by members of the community, which was not considered in whether or not TransCanada would be granted a permit to operate the pipeline.
After several public input sessions, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission granted TransCanada construction permits for the Keystone Phase 1 Pipeline, with 57 additional conditions. Steve Kolbeck, a Public Utilities Commissioner, said that he understood the fears of landowners, but that he was comfortable with the additional conditions placed upon TransCanada by the commission, and that he believed that the pipeline will be operated in a safe manner . However, many landowners were unsatisfied with the conditions placed upon TransCanada and refused to sell their land over concerns over drinking water . TransCanada sued landowners who refused to sell their land under the eminent domain statutes, and construction of the Keystone Phase 1 pipeline began in 2008. The pipeline became operational on June 30th, 2010.
Recent Oil Spill Re-Ignited Concerns About Pipeline Safety:
Once the Keystone pipeline had been constructed and became operational, resistance towards the pipeline had calmed; however, it is beginning to flare up again over the oil spills that have occurred along the Keystone Phase 1 section of the pipeline over the past couple of years. The most recent being on November 16th, 2017, when Keystone Phase 1 pipeline had its third major spill, leaking roughly 210,000 gallons of oil onto agricultural land near the town of Amherst, South Dakota [1,2,8]. The site of the spill was adjacent to land with historical value to the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, according to Dave Flute, a tribal chairman . Flute was on site with representatives of tribal emergency management and the tribal office of environmental protection, to meet with TransCanada in order to offer assistance, determine what had occurred, and to assess the potential environmental impacts of the spill . Flute and tribal authorities were specifically concerned about the potential for oil to contaminate the aquifer. “We want to know how long is it going to take to dig up this plume of contaminated soil and how can we be assured, without a doubt, that it has not and will not seep into the aquifer.” 
The oil spill occurred just days before the state of Nebraska voted on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL extension, and despite the incident, TransCanada won approval of its ‘mainline alternative route.’ However, this recent oil spill is just one of many troubling incidents that have plagued the Keystone pipeline during its roughly 8 years of operation, and has regulators in the state of South Dakota concerned about future incidents in the state . So much so that the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (SDPUC) has warned TransCanada that they have the authority to revoke the permit that allows them to operate the Keystone pipeline in the state if they are found to be at fault for the recent leak . The concerns of regulators are not unfounded, TC had assured regulators that a leak of more than 2’100 gallons would only occur once every 11 years during its operation, and that a leak of that magnitude would only occur in South Dakota every 41 years, but the keystone pipeline has now already had two major leaks in the state, and a third in Montana, this in under 10 years of operation . TransCanada identified that the likely cause of the leak was due to mechanical damage suffered during the original construction of the pipeline in 2008, while a weight was placed on the pipeline to prevent it from floating [1,2].
Opposition groups, which include several Sioux Native American tribes and environmental justice organizations, fear that the continued operation of the pipeline poses a threat to ground water, the livelihoods of farmers, and contamination of the lands of landowners [5,12]. Although the opposition to the already operational sections of the Keystone pipeline has calmed, that is not to say that the fight is over, as opposition groups have turned their attention towards preventing TransCanada from constructing their Keystone XL extension.
The latest incidents lead us to ask, why has a relatively young and supposedly advanced pipeline already had several leaks despite assurances from TransCanada? And with TransCanada’s abysmal track record to date, can regulators in good conscious afford not to revisit their decisions to approve the Keystone XL extension in their respective states?
Josh Young is an ACKnowl-EJ research intern and currently completing his Master of Science in Human Ecology at Lund University. See this case on the Environmental Justice Atlas, along with related pipeline resistance cases here and here.
McKenna, Phil. 2017. “Cause of Keystone Pipeline Spill Worries South Dakota Officials as Oil Flow Restarts”. Inside Climate News
Axelrod, Joshua. 2017. “S.D. Tar Sands Oil Spill: Bad Omen for Keystone XL Safety”. Natural Resource Defense Council.
Mercer, Bob. 2007. “Archive: Landowners lash out at pipeline.” Aberdeen News.
Arthur, Emily. 2005. “Archive: TransCanada Keystone route to be announced.” Aberdeen News.
Mercer, Bob. 2007. “Archive: Battle lines drawn.” Aberdeen News.
Waltman, Scott. 2006. “Archive: Pipeline route changes again”. Aberdeen News.
Reuters. 2010. “UPDATE 1-Keystone oil pipeline “halfway” to full capacity.” Reuters.
Volcovici, Valerie. 2017. “South Dakota Regulators Say They Could Evoke Keystone Permit After Spill.” Reuters.
Mercer, Bob. 2007. “Archive: Oil pipeline hearing schedule set”. Aberdeen News.
 Office Of Pipeline Safety. 2017. “Corrective Action Order.” Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration.
 Hetland, Cara. 2008. “SD approves new pipeline.” MRP News.
 Cuevas, Mayra & Steve, Almasy. 2017. “Keystone Pipeline leaks 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota”. CNN.