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May 11, 2011

On Heels of Spill, Public Hearings for Keystone XL

ND cleanup4

"They said this could not happen and here it is right here in front of you."

Those words come from a North Dakota farmer who had front row seats to the May 7th TransCanada Keystone 1 tar sands oil pipeline spill in Sargent County, North Dakota. Paul Matthews and his neighbors saw the oil spewing up to 60 feet in the air. The gusher was halted, and the exact size of the leak is not yet known, but so far officials are saying it could be close to 16,800 gallons (400 barrels). Here's the key issue with this oil disaster:

"The leak happened at a TransCanada facility, was highly visible, and took 30 minutes to shut down after discovery," said Kate Colarulli, Associate Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign. "How long would it have taken to shut down if the leak had occured elsewhere or hadn't been so visible?"
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The environmental impact statement for this pipeline claimed that any leak would be shut down within 12 minutes - it also defines a "significant leak" as one ranging between 50 to 499.9 barrels. TransCanada also projected that this pipeline would have 1.4 spills every 10 years.

"The Keystone 1 spill is just another stark reminder that tar sands pipelines, like deepwater drilling, are more dangerous and have more unknows around them, and the safety of these operations must be studied before we go forward with permitting another major dedicated pipeline," said Lena Moffitt, Sierra Club Washington Representative for dirty fuels.

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That "another major dedicated pipeline" is currently awaiting approval from the U.S. State Department. TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would come from Canada into Montana and run through seven states down to Texas. Frustrated by the State Department's refusal to hold public hearings in communities in the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Americans in four states are holding their own citizens' hearings tomorrow, May 12th (all times local):

South Dakota: 7pm, Rapid City Public Library, 610 Quincy Street, Rapid City.
Nebraska: Noon, State Capitol, Lincoln.
Oklahoma: 6:30pm Shawnee Public Library, 101 N. Philadelphia Ave., Shawnee.
Texas: 7pm, Austin Heights Baptist Church, 2806 Appleby Sand Road, Nacogdoches.

Concerned citizens are wondering if they would be echoing Paul Matthews' words if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved. From a coalition news release:
TransCanada's use of bullying and eminent domain lawsuits to gain right-of-way through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas has angered landowners worried about risks to their property and to natural resources such as the Ogallala Aquifer, source of most of the Great Plains' water supply.

Last month the State Department, which is deciding whether to issue a permit for the pipeline, released a report from a second round of environmental reviews – failing to address the risk to the aquifer, the safety record of tar sands pipelines and other issues. State allowed only a 45-day public comment period on the report, which ends June 6, and refused requests for field hearings in the pipeline states.

The testimony at these hearings tomorrow will be recorded and sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Our friends over at NRDC also have some good information about this recent tar sands oil spill.

In related news, this week Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) sent another letter to the State Dept  ( click here to read the letter - PDF) decrying the inadequacies of the Keystone XL environmental impact statement and the fact that the State Department did not respond to his request to seriously consider alternative routes for the pipeline that would avoid the fragile Sandhills area of the Ogalalla aquifer (which provides 30% of our nation's agricultural irrigation water) and drinking water to millions of people in seven states.

Senator Johanns also asked for an extension of the comment period (they've given the public the minimum 45 days to look at the more than 500-pg document) and for a field hearing in Nebraska where people can discuss the impacts of the project.

Learn more about the Sierra Club Dirty Fuels Campaign.

Photos of the ND tar sands oil spill cleanup courtesy of Sierra Club staffer Peter Carrels.

-- Heather Moyer

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