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TransCanada Oil Spill Cleanup in North Dakota: Eyewitness Account

Ludden Pumping Station, TransCanada Keystone tar sands pipeline, site of 500-barrel oil leak, May 7, 2011, Sargent County, North Dakota  | Photo by Pete Carrels, May 9, 2011
Ludden Pumping Station, Sargent County, North Dakota

Pete Carrels of the South Dakota branch of the Sierra Club took a trip north of the border Monday to look at the TransCanada Keystone oil spill at the Ludden pumping station in Sargent County, North Dakota. Carrels files this report and photos:

These images were taken May 9, 2011, two days after an accident at this pump station released an undetermined amount of oil. TransCanada officials indicate that as much as 400 barrels of oil were released. An oil odor was noticeable as I walked near the pump station. Workers were moving and piling dirt. There were several tank trucks on site. There is much standing, surface water in the vicinity of the pump station, and provisions had been made to control oil drift in this surface water. The location is very remote, and nearby roads are in rough condition, due to winter and high water impacts.


Workers clean up oil spilled outside Ludden Pumping Station, TransCanada Keystone tar sands pipeline, Sargent County, North Dakota, May 9, 2011 | Photo by Pete Carrels
Workers clean up oil spilled outside Ludden Pumping Station, TransCanada Keystone tar sands pipeline, Sargent County, North Dakota, May 9, 2011 | Photo by Pete Carrels

In the aftermath of this accident, it is worth remembering TransCanada's early statements regarding accidents on the Keystone 1 pipeline.

In June, 2006, TC issued a document (Risk Assessment and Environmental Consequence Analysis for Keystone 1 Pipeline) that stated: " overall frequency for spills or leaks greater than 50 barrels of 0.14 spills per year for a throughput of 435,000 bpd over the entire pipeline system, equivalent to one spill every 7 years."

Also in this document TC wrote that "Based on probablilities...the estimated occurrence intervals for a spill between 50 and 1000 barrels might occur once in 12 years."

According to landowners in the vicinity of Pump Station #19, it was a nearby resident who first observed the pump station accident. The resident phoned TransCanada. Local landowners also contacted area media, prompting coverage of the accident.

Carrels sees this spill as cause for South Dakotans to cast more than a skeptical eye at the assurances of Texas-based Hyperion that its proposed tar sands oil refinery in Union County, South Dakota, would be safe and green:

South Dakota's Republican-controlled regulatory agencies have a tendency to rubber-stamp just about every development project that comes down the pike, and they do so with little critical scrutiny, often accepting at face value the statements of companies such as TransCanada and Hyperion. This pro-development myopia allows corporate interests to run roughshod over South Dakotans. We should be asking who is accountable for TransCanada's misleading hype about safety and accident frequencies. It is flat-out wrong for South Dakota's regulatory agencies (PUC and DENR/BME, for example) to error on the side of corporate interests.

It is also worth noting that it is likely that the proposed Hyperion refinery will need to install their own oil pipelines in the existing Keystone 1 right-of-way, if Hyperion can ever identify investors for their sketchy and dangerous project. Imagine the concerns and frustrations of landowners who were forced to already accommodate TransCanada's construction problems having to do so once again. Hyperion's pipeline needs are a reality that must not be ignored. Hyperion has been vague about this aspect of their enterprise, and has implied that building a pipeline is a matter that can be routinely handled. Tell that to landowners with a large crude oil pipeline crossing their property. Examine the record of leaks and other problems linked to tar sands pipelines. It is a worrisome track record, and the explosions and spills will not stop. Hyperion is either naïve or misleading when they assert that building a tar sands crude oil pipeline can be routinely arranged and built.

If you'd rather South Dakota didn't fall for more corporate lies about safety and environmental risk, you should check out You can learn more there about why more tar sands development is bad for South Dakota.


Emergency cleanup crews at Ludden Pumping Station, TransCanada Keystone tar sands pipeline, Sargent County, North Dakota, May 9, 2011 | Photo by Pete Carrels
If you enjoy emergency trucks cleaning up toxic sludge in your backyard, then by all means, support Hyperion and Keystone XL | Photo by Pete Carrels


  1. Lisa Dale Norton 2011.05.13

    Thank you for this coverage of the oil spill. The pipeline is projected to come through Wheeler County in Nebraska where I own a summer cabin. I have just learned of this atrocity. The locals in this area seem illiterate when it comes to understanding the potential impact on the Ogallala Aquifer. Or perhaps it is apathy. This news and these photos are evidence of the on-going lies of the oil companies.

  2. The Eye 2011.09.25

    It is so strange that the people who have the final say on this thing don't use this area's water supply for their daily survival.If they feel it will be safe to have their water supply in question then put it on their ground,not over the u.s. largest aquifer. Pushing sandy/oil/water goo down thousands of miles of pipeline "might be leaks or blow-outs" what a bunch of dumb-asses

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