Aerial photo of TransCanada Keystone pipeline spill taken April 10, 2016. (Credit: Bold Nebraska)
Aerial photo of TransCanada Keystone pipeline spill taken April 10, 2016. (Credit: Bold Nebraska)
Aerial photo of tarsands-contaminated soil dumping site near TransCanada Keystone pipeline spill near Freeman, S.D. (Photo: Dakota Aerials)
Aerial photo of tarsands-contaminated soil dumping site near TransCanada Keystone pipeline spill near Freeman, S.D. (Photo: Dakota Aerials)
Waste Management facility in Minnesota where TransCanada is shipping contaminated soil from the spill. “This facility does not accept hazardous waste.”

Sign the Petition Calling for TransCanada to Shut Down Keystone I and Investigate Pipeline Integrity

As citizens have testified over the last decade, TransCanada’s leak detection system is not fool proof–this weekend when the pipeline spilled, a landowner called in the oil sheen. TransCanada’s leak detection system which they bragged about all the time failed. Again.

The Freeman leak is TransCanada’s fifth on the Keystone I Pipeline in the last six years in South Dakota alone!

Canadian regulators noted 21 incidents in the Keystone pipeline’s first year in operation.

A letter from PHMSA, identified up to 62 probable deficiencies in TransCanada’s operations of the pipeline last year.

This is an unacceptable and reckless record. We are watching to see if PHMSA puts TransCanada under another Corrective Action Order, a serious step taken by our government to protect life and property.

As TransCanada’s Whistleblower, Evan Vokes reports, “TransCanada’s leak detection equipment can’t pick up a leak until 2% of the pressure in a pipeline drops,” Vokes said. “Which is what makes small leaks like this dangerous since they can go undetected for a long time.”

As a reminder, Keystone 1 carries 500,000 barrels of tarsands and chemicals like benzene a day. So 2% leak is a lot of toxic chemicals in the soil and water. TransCanada is telling the press and public that it only spilled 5 barrels of tarsands, we think that math is very fuzzy.

Below is a timeline we gathered to try and keep TransCanada accountable and the public informed.

We will add to this daily and please add to this in the comments section to help us document this spill:

  • April 2 – At 12:30pm a landowner’s greatest fear becomes a reality when, Hutchinson County, South Dakota landowner, Loern Schulz finds oil in surface water near the Keystone pipeline’s right-of-way and reports the spill.
  • April 2 – A citizen reports that the SD PUC commission is notified of the spill on Keystone I in the early afternoon.
  • April 2 – SD PUC reports at 4pm that TransCanada is in the process of removing the oil and investigating the source of the leak, however other media outlets relay that TransCanada does not arrive at the spill site until April 3.
  • April 3 – TransCanada confirms with media of shutting down Keystone I, nearly a day after they were notified of the spill!
  • April 3 – TransCanada arrives at the spill site viewing visible oil at the surface.
  • April 4 – Public is notified of spill on Keystone I in SD near a pumping station in Hutchinson County, SD, Freeman (name of pump station) GPS: 43°17’34.6” / ‐97°28’51.4”
  • April 4 – Media reports the spill according to TransCanada is 187 gallons.
  • April 4 – Media reports TransCanada immediately shut down the pipeline, other media outlets reports the pipeline was not shut down until April 3, one day after the spill.
  • April 4 – Citizens attempt to access the spill site, which has approximately 100 workers and an excavation crew, citizens are denied access.
  • April 4 – Citizens contact SD PUC to inquire about the spill and explain that are being kept away and unable to access or view the spill site.  SD PUC, states they didn’t realize the public was unable to access the spill site and were being kept away.
  • April 4 – PHMSA arrives on site late evening.
  • April 4 – A citizen reports that TransCanada contacts the FAA to issue a no fly zone at 11:00pm.
  • April 4 – TransCanada works the night shift at the spill site.
  • April 5 – A citizen reports that the FAA lifts the no fly zone at approximately 12:00pm, according to a FAA air traffic control in Minneapolis, their office noticed the order had been issued last night, didn’t understand why, and so they cancelled it!
  • April 5 – TransCanada tells the Hutchinson County Commission that they will be cooking the soil and replacing it, which is indicative of the spill being larger than 5 barrels.
  • April 5 – A local news source reports the leak occurred nine feet underground, but has surfaced showing as an oil sheen on the landowner’s property.
  • April 5 – TransCanada tells the Hutchinson County Commission that they have found the source of the spill, if this is the case we should have a better assessment of the spill amount based upon the source.
  • April 5 – According to local news, TransCanada hires security on the landowners property in preparation of protests.
  • April 6 – PHMSA reports to a citizen that the air quality is unsafe for anyone to get too close to the spill site, meanwhile the TransCanada’s cleanup crew continues to not wear hazmat masks.
  • April 6 – PHMSA reports to a citizen that the leak is likely from a faulty transition weld.
  • April 6 – TransCanada reports that 187 gallons WERE FOUND (no idea if this will continue to go up as they excavate soil and faulty pipe). This is the same number TransCanada originally reported.
  • April 6 – Argus Leader reports it was TransCanada, not the local government, that requested the no-fly zone order.
  • April 7 – Even though TransCanada on April 5 told the Hutchinson County Commission they found the source of the spill, media outlets are still reporting they have NOT found the source and that PHMSA is on the ground monitoring the situation.
  • April 7 – PHMSA confirms it is tarsands that spilled into the soil (and maybe water?).  You see the chemicals, including benzene, in this batch of Surmont Heavy blend crude.  Which can cause headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, loss of coordination, disorientation, and fatigue.  We have no idea if landowners are being properly notified of the risks associated with benzene.
  • April 7 – Argus Leader reports that TransCanada has increased the size of the spill to 16,500 gallons instead of 187 as originally reported.
  • April 7 – Citizens report that TransCanada is dumping contaminated soil along the highway.
  • April 7 – Citizen reports that TransCanada is sending contaminated soil samples to Mid-Continent Lab to determine the type of toxic crude which was running through the pipeline.  Therefore, the companies reported analysis may be inaccurate.
  • April 8 – Bold Nebraska speaks with DENR, they relay that they are not doing any water or soil testing, TransCanada is doing all of the testing.  They also state the collected contaminated water is being stored in frack tanks, and the soil is being hauled off to a temporary storage site where it will be characterized.  So, essentially TransCanada is being left to “police themselves.”
  • April 8 – Dakota Rural Action speaks with DENR and they say TransCanada is supposed to be using safe guards such as impermeable barrier between contaminated soil and ground and some type of water catchment system for runoff should it rain, but none of this has been confirmed by DENR.
  • April 8 – Argus Leader reports that TransCanada has exposed 275ft of the pipeline in order to find the source of the leak, and found it early this morning.
  • April 8 – Citizens onsite at the spill relay that only TransCanada’s workers in the pipeline trench are wearing hazmat suits and masks, they also can smell a distinct chemical order from the Surmont heavy blend crude.  The chemical smell affects the citizens throats and lungs, but TransCanada workers still continue to not wear hazmat masks unless they are near the pipeline.
  • April 8 – Citizens report piles of soil showing are soaked with diluted bitumen, but TransCanada still says there is no environmental damage.
  • April 8 – KELOLAND news reports that TransCanada is still trying to find the cause of the leak.
  • April 9 – PHMSA orders TransCanada a corrective action order, it states the leak was caused by a faulty girth weld.  The pipeline had been leaking 1-2 drops/minute for who know how long to finally make it to from 9 feet underground to show as an oil sheen on ground water.
  • April 10 – TransCanada receives permission from federal regulators to restart its leaky pipeline.
  • April 11 – TransCanada Whistleblower Evan Vokes’s prediction is accurate, the leak is from a girth weld which is a transition weld connecting smaller and larger pipe together.  A tiny crack in a weld can leak for years before it is found, because leak detection systems are only capable of detecting leaks when a pipeline’s volume drops by two percent in the course of a day.
  • April 12 – Bold Nebraska receives calls from citizens that there has been approximately 400-600 truck loads of contaminated soil hauled out of the spill site so far.
  • April 13 – Vice News report the section of the pipeline that failed was manufactured by Welspun.  Based in India, Welspun is known for producing substandard leaky pipes.  In 2010, Paul Blackburn, an attorney with Plains Justice alerted the U.S. Department of Transportation about TransCanada use of defective steel from Welspun.
  • April 13 – Argus Leader reports TransCanada was ordered to install a leak repair clamp, limit discharge pressure, and offer a third party analysis of the weld failure within 90 days.
  • April 13 – The NDEQ directs Bold Nebraska to use the PHMSA website to view the route of the Keystone I pipeline running through Nebraska.  We have been contacted by citizens who live near Keystone I in Nebraska and South Dakota who are concerned about water contamination.
  • April 14 – Bold Nebraska receives calls from landowners with concerns about possible water contamination.  If you live in the area or near Keystone I and are concerned about water contamination, please contact us and we will explain next steps.
  • April 16 – Dickinson Press reports that despite all of the federal PHMSA inspections and 57 additional conditions implemented by the South Dakota PUC, TransCanada managed to have its second substantial leak in six years.  According to PHMSA, TransCanada has had 11 other incidences on Keystone I since it’s construction in 2010.
  • April 18 – Citizens report TransCanada is digging up more of the Keystone I pipeline and hauling more dirt.
  • April 19 – Argus Leader reports TransCanada is removing more contaminated soil.  TransCanada states the newly found contaminated soil is not a source of a new leak, it is part of the natural cleanup process, and the pipeline remains operational.  Stating that they will need to remove additional soil to make the permanent repair on the pipeline and may uncover additional pockets of contaminated soil.
  • April 19 – Citizens report that TransCanada is not being transparent about the newly found contaminated soil or the results from the soil testing result. TransCanada will not pay for water testing.
  • April 19 – Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan reports the contaminated soil is being hauled to Spruce Ridge Landfill operated by Waste Management in Glencoe, MN.  The facility handles both commercial and residential waste.  The business says the landfill does not accept hazardous waste.
  • April 21 – KDLT news reports TransCanada will be onsite cleaning up the spill until May 15.
  • April 27 – Bold Nebraska speaks with the DENR in regard to TransCanada sending their soil to a waste management facility in Glencoe, MN which does NOT accept hazardous waste.  According to TransCanada, the soil tests data did not come back as hazardous.  TransCanada is not required to share their soil test data with the DENR because they are disposing of the contaminated soil at a facility outside of South Dakota.  TransCanada could have chosen a facility in South Dakota but instead opted to haul it to Minnesota.  According to the DENR, the water is also going to the facility in Minnesota and only one frack tank of water was categorized as hazardous.
  • April 29 – Reuters reports that TransCanada will continue to operate at reduce capacity until PHMSA approves for them to return to full capacity.  They plan permanent repairs, restoration work, and other corrective measure required by PHMSA in May.
  • May 6 – Rapid City Journal reports that 12,000 cubic yards of soil was removed.  Brian Walsh with DENR reports that small leaks are difficult to detect and if you had to have a leak it was a good spot to have one.
  • May 9 – Citizens report that the spill site is a mess and TransCanada has had to put special water lines above ground to get water to local residents.  They also report TransCanada using “oil sniffing dogs” walking the route to detect leaks.
  • May 15 -Lincoln Journal Star reports that TransCanada will dig up the Keystone I pipeline in Nebraska where it does not meet federal strength standards.  The current Nebraska counties slated to have the faulty pipeline with weak steel replaced include Stanton, Platte, Colfax and Cedar.  If you live near Keystone I in Nebraska and would like to have your water or soil tested email

More Background on TransCanada: Over the last decade citizens have asked for TransCanada to fully disclose the contents being transported in the pipeline to inform the public of potential hazards and or complications when there is a spill.  In this incidence, TransCanada is unable to confirm the contents being transported in their pipeline.

As we have seen with the spills in Kalamazoo, MI and Mayflower, AR, the cleanup of crude oil in comparison to diluted bitumen or tarsands is remarkably different.

Though TransCanada confirmed its leak detection system didn’t pick up a spill, it would not confirm if the product  in the line was diluted bitumen or crude oil, but it is likely that if product spilled in South Dakota it is diluted bitumen, also known as dilbit.

Because of this, before TransCanada could begin cleanup efforts, they had to have their cleanup crews take samples of the oil sheen showing on the property owners land, and send it off to a lab for analysis to determine whether it was crude oil or diluted bitumen.

Responsible pipeline companies have MSDS ready for citizens and first responders. TransCanada, from what we know, did not have this information ready. The spill in South Dakota reinforces citizens concerns for safety with proper spill response plans that protect our land and water.  Time and time again citizens have testified that is not “if” a pipeline leaks it’s “when.”  This is unfortunately another example of TransCanada’s poor safety record and craftsmanship.

Action Ideas:

1. Sign the Petition Calling for TransCanada to Shut Down Keystone I and Investigate the Pipeline Integrity.

2. Let’s push for the creation of a Citizen Advisory Committee, like the state of Washington has in place, to be on site during spills for transparency and to ensure the public is fully informed.  It is also worthy to note, that though the PUC and PSC in states site pipelines and essential grant the right of way, they have no regulatory control over the spill.  This is why citizens need to advocate for laws with proper spill response plans and protections for our land and water. Send an email to the Nebraska Public Service Commissioners asking for the creation of a Citizen Advisory Committee:

3. Please support Standing Rock’s Spirit Camp to stop and protest the Bakken Dakota Access pipeline, our health, land and water are not worth the risk! They have a list of camping equipment they need donated. Send equipment and donations to: Standing Rock, Sacred Rock Camp 202 Main Street Fort Yates, ND 58538

4. Sign up to go up to the spill site to ask questions and to take pictures. Email If you have a drone or a plane where you can volunteer to take pictures, we also need your help! Email

Additional Resources:
  • Julie Dermansky is a reporter for DeSmog and had a great overview on all the issues of Keystone. 
  • View the MSDS of the type of Tarsands that spilled in South Dakota (see page 10), this spells out how soil and other toxic parts should be handled.
  • Citizen report on TransCanada’s Keystone XL southern segment:  Construction Problems Raise Questions about the Integrity of the Pipeline.