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An aerial view of an oilspill which shut down the Keystone pipeline between Canada and the United States in an agricultura...

‘We need to know’ more about Keystone oil pipeline leak, tribal chairman says

The energy company TransCanada announced Thursday that it responded to a leak of approximately 5,000 barrels — or 210,000 gallons — of crude oil from its Keystone pipeline in northeastern South Dakota.

The company said on its website that crews safely closed down the pipeline after a pressure drop was detected in a section of pipe located in Marshall County around 7 a.m. ET (6 a.m. local time) Thursday.

“There are currently over 75 people supporting our incident response, including specialists in environmental management, metallurgy, engineering, pipeline integrity and emergency response,” according to TransCanada. “They continue to affirm the incident is controlled and there is no threat to public safety.”

The leak took place near the Lake Traverse Reservation, home to the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. In an interview Friday, Tribal Chairman Dave Flute estimated the reservation lies 20-25 miles from the site of the leak. He agreed with TransCanada’s sentiment that the leak has been contained. But he said TransCanada officials have not specified how much oil actually leaked from the pipeline.

“They couldn’t give us an exact amount,” Flute said. “So those numbers could be less, they could be greater. I don’t know. But they couldn’t say accurately today how many gallons exactly had been leaked. We need to know. I think everybody needs to know for a variety of reasons.”

Flute — who said he spent at least a couple of hours with TransCanada and emergency management officials near the site of the leak — noted that he thought the company was being cautious not to release inaccurate estimates or information.

In addition to the amount of oil leaked, he said he has other questions that need clear answers — specifically, whether any water sources were contaminated. Flute told the NewsHour that there’s no reason for him to believe at the moment that any water source is or would be contaminated, based on the information he’s received from TransCanada and the regional emergency management team.

“But still, to reassure our tribal members, our community members and I think for the entire community in general, it’s good to have a confirmation,” he said.

Flute said that some residents of the reservation that use well water in their homes, a subsurface source that could possibly be affected in the event of a leak. South Dakota officials told the Associated Press that they don’t think the oil leak contaminated any bodies of water on the surface or drinking water sources.

An additional question is how the leak started, which Flute posed in a video posted to YouTube by TransCanada.

“I think they (TransCanada) did a good job in reaching out to the tribe and letting us know what happened when it happened, but we’re interested in knowing why it happened,” Flute told company spokesperson Robynn Tysver. “I think that should be a concern of everybody up and down the pipeline, regardless of where it’s running through.”

The leak comes as the debate over the proposed path of the Keystone XL pipeline rages on. Nebraska’s Public Service Commission is scheduled to announce its decision Monday on whether to permit TransCanada to build Keystone XL along its proposed route in the state, the Omaha World-Herald reported. A spokeswoman for the commission told the AP that the board’s members will only use information provided during public hearings and official public comments in order to make their decision.

The commission “must take note: there is no such thing as a safe tar sands pipeline, and the only way to protect Nebraska communities from more tar sands spills is to say no to Keystone XL,” Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director Kelly Martin said in a statement after TransCanada’s announcement Thursday.

In South Dakota, Flute said that the response of TransCanada has been organized and effective so far.

“Being able to say that this TransCanada reaction team mobilized fairly quickly [and had a] good response time — that should give some comfort to other communities,” he said.

Based on the location of the leak and the size of the response, Flute said he “was impressed.”

“The oil pipeline is where it’s at, it is what it is,” he said, noting that he has extended help to Marshall County officials.

“Rather than being reactive and being negative,” he said, “I want to be proactive and positive.”