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Yellowstone River Oil Spill Raises Concerns About Keystone XL Impact

Workers are still struggling to clean up an oil spill in the Yellowstone River, hampered by ice; drinking water contaminated for 3 days.
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As ice continues to hamper cleanup efforts in the oil spill into the Yellowstone River, opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline are noting that the Poplar pipeline that ruptured measures 12 inches in diameter, while the contested pipeline would be 36 inches across.

Experts are learning from this spill, the first in a quarter century into icy waters, National Geographicnoted. They learned that it could in fact contaminate drinking water, even though the water is collected at a deeper level than the oil supposedly was. They learned that there had been enough changes in the riverbed to expose sections of the pipe, even though it had originally been buried several feet below it.

The ice both helped and impeded cleanup, stopping the flow of oil on the one hand but forcing cleanup crew to drill holes in it to reach the oil, even as they remained tethered to their equipment lest they fall through into the frigid river. Meanwhile, benzene and other cancer-causing chemicals were found in drinking water, and residents of Glendive, Montana had to truck in bottled water.

RELATED: Pipeline Rupture Spills 55,000 Gallons of Oil Into Yellowstone River

The spill raised questions in Congress about the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry 800,000 barrels per day from the Alberta oil sands to the Gulf Coast, given that it is three times the diameter of the ruptured Poplar line. The Senate voted on January 29 in favor of a bill to force Keystone approval, legislation that President Barack Obama has said he will veto.

RELATED: Senate Passes Keystone; Obama Promised Veto

It also shone a light on potential pitfalls of Arctic drilling, National Geographic said. In general, spills have been increasing since 2009, the Associated Press reported.

“U.S. Department of Transportation records show at least 73 pipeline-related accidents in 2014 — an 87 percent increase over 2009,” AP said. “Because of a lag in reporting by companies, the 2014 figure still could rise.”

However, Keystone XL supporters used this as fodder to buttress their case, saying that the pipes that are rupturing are old, and that Keystone would be buried much deeper and contain newer technology.

"To the extent that we have problems with spills, it's with aging infrastructure," North Dakota Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said, according to AP. "Keystone is going to be state-of-the-art."