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Exxon Silvertip Clean-up: $135 Million; Comparable Keystone XL Price: $1.2 Billion

Last updated on 2013.02.18

As the Nebraska Legislature considers demanding a $500 million bond from TransCanada to secure funding for cleaning up the inevitable Keystone XL pipeline spills, Mr. Kurtz brings to my attention the price tag for cleaning up the Exxon Silvertip oil spill in the Yellowstone River this summer: $135 million dollars.

Let's do some math:

  • Amount spilled from Silvertip: 1,000 barrels.
  • Clean-up cost per barrel: $135,000.
  • Diameter of Silvertip pipeline: 12 inches.
  • Diameter of proposed Keystone XL pipeline: 36 inches.
  • Ratio of potential Keystone XL volume to Silvertip's: 9:1
  • Amount comparable river-crossing accident on Keystone XL might spill: 9,000 barrels.
  • Clean-up cost for comparable river-crossing clean-up: $1.215 billion.
  • Cap on environmental compensation fun included in most recent South Dakota pipeline tax proposal: $30 million.
  • Amount of Silvertip-comparable Keystone XL clean-up such a fund would cover: 2.5%, or 222 barrels.
  • Time it took Exxon to seal the ruptured Silvertip line: 56 minutes.
  • Flow capacity of Keystone XL: 900,000 barrels per day = 625 barrels per minute.
  • Maximum amount Keystone XL could spill in 56 minutes: 35,000 barrels.
  • Silvertip-comparable cost to clean up spill that size: $4.7 billion.

Uff da: Nebraska Senator Bill Avery from Lincoln is right when he says TransCanada's offer of a $100-million clean-up bond is "woefully inadequate." But by the above math, so is Avery's bill for a $500-million bond. Think bigger, Nebraska!

Related: Speaking of funny math, when TransCanada says Keystone XL will create lots of jobs, it is counting work already done and over thanks to steel pipe it has already bought and stockpiled from Russian and Indian steel companies. TransCanada is also counting dancers, choreographers, and speech therapists connected with the pipeline. TransCanada does not count the jobs lost through health impacts or increased gasoline prices. Unclear is whether TransCanada includes estimates of jobs created for oil spill cleanup crews.


  1. Douglas Wiken 2011.11.06

    Has anybody found out how such pipelines are depreciated in terms of property tax liability?

  2. larry kurtz 2011.11.06

    Cory, I have concerns that the Army Corps of Engineers, the lead authority on the Yellowstone watershed, seemed to be out of the loop prior to the spill.

    As I wrote just after the breach, the corps was, and still is, conducting a study of bank erosion above the Silvertip but seemed unaware of the scouring taking place on the pipeline at the peak of Spring runoff.

    Often, in questions of budget priorities within the Federal government, communication between agencies sorely lacks coordination for fear of losing control over their budgetary autonomy.

    It can be frustrating for us as informed citizens to advise our congressional delegations as to how we might ascribe their direction to protect the environment.

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