Days after oil spill, Nebraska approves Keystone XL pipeline project

November 20, 2017, 11:57 a.m.
A creek curls through the rolling hills of South Dakota in 2014 near the land where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would pass.
Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

TransCanada, the company that operates the Keystone oil pipeline, won approval on Nov. 20 for the Keystone XL pipeline (shown above) to run through Nebraska after a years-long fight. The Nebraska Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to allow the project to move forward, The Hill reports.

The move comes just four days after part of the Keystone oil pipeline in South Dakota was shut down on Nov. 16 after a 5,000-barrel leak, TransCanada said. That's the equivalent of 210,000 gallons of oil. (The photo above shows you the affected area of South Dakota before the spill took place.)

Crews shut down the pipeline and activated emergency response procedures, TransCanada said in a statement. Officials are investigating the cause of the leak that occurred near the town of Amherst.

Officials don’t believe the leak polluted any surface water bodies or drinking water systems, Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist at the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, told the Associated Press.

“Ultimately, the cleanup responsibility lies with TransCanada, and they’ll have to clean it up in compliance with our state regulations,” Walsh said.

Keystone and Keystone XL

The Keystone pipeline system stretches 2,639 miles from Alberta to the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast. It began delivering in 2010, but the company behind it has been lobbying the U.S. since 2008 to approve an 180-mile XL addition that would cut southeast from Canada, passing through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska before linking to existing lines near Kansas. The plan had faced stiff resistance from environmentalists, as well as residents, until March, when President Donald Trump's administration officially issued a permit that approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

miles of pipe prepare for the Keystone Pipeline in North Dakota Miles of pipe sit in a lot outside Gascoyne, North Dakota, waiting for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The Nebraska Public Service Commission was not allowed to consider the possibility of spills because the project already has an environmental permit.

“If this spill had happened along the proposed route in Nebraska, it would be absolutely devastating,” Brian Jorde, a lawyer representing Nebraska landowners opposed to Keystone XL, told Reuters. “Their proposed route is within a mile of thousands of water wells.”

Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director Kelly Martin said in a statement that “it’s not a question of whether a pipeline will spill, but when.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was originally published.

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