On Monday April 4, TransCanada announced that it has shut down its Keystone pipeline south of Freeman, South Dakota after an oil spill was reported by a local rancher, stating that "crews initially found visible signs of oil on a small surface area."
A video posted on Facebook by Keystone XL (a proposed extension of the existing Keystone pipeline) fighter Faith Spotted Eagle—a Yankton Dakota Sioux tribal elder and founder of the Brave Heart Society—showed TransCanada representative Shawn Howard onsite answering questions regarding the spill.
“We don’t know what has happened here,” Howard admitted, “and we don’t know where it is coming from.”
When asked if the company had concerns over whether the detection system failed he said, “we appreciate [the landowner was] alert and reported this to us quickly,” but he considered that a success story because it demonstrated that TransCanada’s public awareness programs are working.
Spotted Eagle reported that the rancher was not happy with this assessment, that he said he does not have time to be looking for leaks, that this should not be his job.
Still, the TransCanada representative assured the public that the company has in place “layers to our leak detection system” and that alert landowners are only part of the equation, the other being “our high tech oil control center.” During the South Dakota Public Utility Commission meetings Spotted Eagle and other Keystone XL opponents from several Dakota/Lakota tribes and South Dakota landowners were reassured repeatedly by TransCanada officials that the oil control center would immediately catch any leaks.
“Their hotshot computer system did not detect the spill,” Spotted Eagle wrote on Facebook while posting a photo of herself with the Simpson family, the ranchers who discovered the spill. “Our worst fears have been realized. They are still investigating…. Haven't isolated the leak. STOP DAKOTA ACCESS NOW.”
Elizabeth Lone Eagle, an official intervener for the state of South Dakota, scoffed at TransCanada’s early reports that only 187 gallons of oil were spilled. She noted the spill’s close proximity to the James and Missouri rivers and worried that the “groundwater contamination is heading to Yankton, Vermillion, Sioux City... all the way down.”
During the South Dakota PUC hearings, Lone Eagle was unable to get a TransCanada spokesperson to admit that her community of Bridger on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation was actually a human habitation; the spokesperson simply refused, citing reasons of “Homeland Security.” Due to its proximity to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, admitting that her community existed would have incurred greater costs and safety measures to the project.
This Keystone pipeline carries 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta, Canada to a terminal in Illinois and a storage facility in Cushing, Oklahoma, and to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. The Keystone XL pipeline rejected by President Obama in November was to be an extension of this one.
Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota writer living in Portland, Oregon and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry. She has been published in Telesur and The Nation and interviewed on MSNBC, Democracy Now and Native American Calling. Her forthcoming book is called “Not Your Disappearing Indian.” On Twitter:@jfkeeler.