Press "Enter" to skip to content

Feds Shut Down Keystone Pipeline; New Leak in South Dakota

Last updated on 2011.06.05

Fossil fuels may be our future, but that doesn't excuse TransCanada's spilling them like a drunken sailor all over the prairie. (Wait a minute: what's a sailor doing on the prairie...?)

After the twelfth leak in twelve months on the Keystone oil pipeline system, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has ordered TransCanada to keep the pipeline closed until the the company has thoroughly investigated these failures, which have far exceeded predictions. While the Canadian pipeliner tells us that leaks prove their pipeline is safe, Uncle Sam has drawn the opposite conclusion. Says Jeffrey D. Wiese, Associate Administrator for Pipeline Safety:

After evaluating the foregoing preliminary findings of fact, I find that the continued operation of the pipeline without corrective measures would be hazardous to life, property and the environment. Additionally, after considering the circumstances surrounding the May 7 and May 29, 2011 failures, the proximity of the pipeline to populated areas, water bodies, public roadways and high consequence areas, the hazardous nature of the product the pipeline transports, the ongoing investigation to determine the cause of the failures, and the potential for the conditions causing the failures to be present elsewhere on the pipeline, I find that a failure to issue this Order expeditiously to require immediate corrective action would result in likely serious harm to life, property, and the environment. Accordingly, this Corrective Action Order mandating immediate corrective action is issued without prior notice and opportunity for a hearing. The terms and conditions of this Order are effective upon receipt [emphasis mine; Jeffrey D. Wiese, PHMSA, letter to TransCanada, 2011.06.03].

The order, archived here in PDF by the National Wildlife Federation, includes the previously unreported revelation that the Keystone pumping station in Miner County, South Dakota, blew another gasket on May 25:

On May 25, 2011, a transmitter fitting leak occurred on Respondent's pipeline at the Roswell Pump Station that did not meet the reportable criteria. Preliminary metallurgical analysis provided by the Respondent determined that this fitting failed due to cyclical fatigue. Respondent has also experienced minor leakage on several pump seals and from other threaded connections on small diameter piping such as mainline valve drains [Wiese, 2011.06.03].

Cyclical fatigue: that means that fitting wore out after just a year of use. The Roswell/Miner County pumping station brought us Keystone's second leak last June.

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha says the company is "taking the necessary steps to be done to ensure the integrity of the system." Note his use of the word system here: evidently Cunha is backtracking from his logic-defying denial that pumping stations need not be included in discussion of the integrity of the pipeline system. The PHMSA order clearly rejects that corporate deception as well.

PHMSA has ordered TransCanada to take the following steps before re-opening the Keystone taps:

  1. Submit a written restart plan to the PHMSA Kansas City office.
  2. Staff, monitor, and patrol the pumping stations during a daylight restart and make advance contact with local emergency management officials.
  3. "...complete mechanical and metallurgical testing and failure analysis of the failed pipe components..."
  4. Within 60 days, submit all data on previous failures and prepare an inventory of all pipe and pipe components or fittings used throughout the system. That list will include material strength and manufacturers, so we may be able to map exactly where potentially defective Welspun steel was laid.
  5. Compile a report on all "Issues and Incidents," including resulting reports, memos and correspondence (please, tell me PHMSA will make this report public!).
  6. List specific dates and times when each facility has had staff present, plus pressure, flow, and configuration at each facility throughout the first year of operation.
  7. Submit a Root Cause Failure Analysis supplemented by an independent third party.
  8. Submit and implement a remedial work plan.
  9. Submit monthly reports on work plan progress, starting July 31.
  10. Requested but not required: document the costs of implementing this Corrective Action Order.

In related news, the U.S. State Department closes public comment on TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on Monday. That gives you just two more days to express your concern to Secretary Hillary Clinton that "XL" stands for "eXtra Leaks."

Bonus Reading:

Update 2011.06.05 08:23 CDT: That time-out didn't last long. Keystone is probably back online right now. The PHMSA said yesterday TransCanada had satisfied enough of the Corrective Action Order's conditions to restart the pipeline. The Feds say they'll be watching closely....


  1. Guy 2011.06.04

    Well it's long past time they did this.

  2. Kelly Fuller 2011.06.05

    Time for a Freedom of Information Act request to PHMSA to find out what the heck just happened.

Comments are closed.