According to a statement released Thursday by TransCanada, the company that operates the Keystone pipeline, up to 16,800 gallons of tar sands crude oil have spilled from the pipeline into a field in South Dakota.
That’s a huge increase from previous estimates, which suggested that only about 187 gallons of oil had spilled from the pipeline.
The new estimate is based on the excavation of soil in the spill area to expose more than 100 feet of pipe in hopes of locating the source of the leak, according to TransCanada. The estimate includes the amount of oil observed in the soil and the “potential area impacted.”
The leak first came to TransCanada’s attention when Loren Schulz found oil in surface water near the Keystone pipeline’s right-of-way on his property.
TransCanada has not yet been able to identify the source of the leak. However, the company claims it immediately shut down the pipeline, remotely turning off valves and pump stations, and that the leak is now under control.
The company has 100 workers at the clean up site.
The Keystone Pipeline Has A Troubled History
The multi-billion dollar Keystone project has been plagued by leaks and other problems since it launched its first phase— 2,147 miles of pipeline stretching from Hardisty, Alberta, to Patoka, Ill.—back in 2010. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada logged 21 “incidents,” including 12 leaks, with the pipeline during its first year of operation alone.
TransCanada says it is taking the latest incident “very seriously” and has assured locals there will be “no significant environmental impact” from the spill, but some environmental groups are still concerned.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, calls the leak a “disaster” and argues that it is “a stark reminder that it’s not a question if a pipeline will malfunction, but rather a question of when.”
Greenpeace activist Keith Stewart is also troubled by this most recent spill, particularly because it was the landowner rather than TransCanada that initially noticed the problem.
“The company has been making big claims at the Energy East Pipeline hearings in Quebec about how their spill detection system will identify a leak within minutes,” Stewart said in an email to The Huffington Post. “But the truth is that most pipeline spills aren’t detected until the oil makes its way to the surface where it can be seen and smelt.”
In 2015 environmental concerns compelled President Obama to veto legislation allowing an expansion of the Keystone pipeline known as the Keystone XL. Republican attempts to override the veto failed.