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Keystone 1 Accident: A Geyser of Tar Sands Oil Just like the Movies

Rocky Kistner

Posted June 26, 2012

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On an early morning in May 2011, North Dakota farmer Bob Banderet was walking out of his farm house with his daughter to check on some calves when off in the distance they noticed something billowing into the air “like a geyser.” It didn’t take long for him to figure out what it was, since the plume of dark liquid shooting straight into the sky came from the newly-built Ludden Pumping Station, part of the new 1,300 mile Keystone 1 pipeline system that oil giant TransCanada had built a little over a mile from his house.

Banderet quickly called the pipeline operators who then shut it down, but not before 21,000 gallons of Canadian crude had spewed out of the pumping station. “It was just like the movies you used to see as a kid, when they’d strike oil and the geyser of oil shooting straight up in the air, with the plume on top.”

Check out Bob Banderet’s video that will be posted along with other updates on Voices Against Tar Sands, a website devoted to people's stories about the fight against  dangerous tar sands oil mining and pipeline projects in North America.  Landowners efforts have been supported by the Dakota Resource Council.



The tar sands blowout that Banderet witnessed is particularly relevant today, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has just given TransCanada the green light to begin construction of portions of the "southern leg" of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf, where much of the heavy crude will be refined and exported. As NRDC's Susan Casey-Lefkowitz has blogged, pushing a massive tar sands pipeline project to the Gulf over the objections of landowners is both foolhardy and dangerous for future generations.

 It is downright foolhardy to cut corners on safety reviews for permitting the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline – that will carry costly and dirty tar sands from Canada. We already know from experience that tar sands oil is more likely to spill and harder to clean up once it spills. And to fight climate change, we need to reduce our dependence on oil. The people of Oklahoma, Texas and the rest of the country deserve better.

But up in the Dakotas, where the State Department is currently evaluating TransCanada's new application to build the cross-border section of the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, landowners like Bob Banderet are worried about oil gushing through pipelines near their property today. The spill near Cogswell, ND, occurred at one of dozens of pumping stations that TransCanada constructed along its Keystone 1 pipeline, which each day pumps millions of gallons of tar sands oil from Canada through seven states to refineries in Oklahoma and Illinois. When Keystone 1 was completed in 2010, TransCanada proclaimed it used the safest pipeline technology in the world.

But those boasts now prove hard for some to believe. Within the first year of operation, the Keystone 1 pipeline had more than a dozen spills. A month after Banderet witnessed the North Dakota accident, federal pipeline safety officials issued a corrective action order that shut the Keystone 1 pipeline down after a second pumping station spilled tar sands oil in Kansas. TransCanada complied with the safety order to inspect critical pipeline equipment, then quickly restarted the Keystone 1 pipeline in June, 2011.

For farmers like Banderet, the Keystone 1 pipeline spill is a cautionary tale of potential accidents to come if TransCanada is allowed to build its $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport a river of tar sands oil from Canada all the way to refineries in the Gulf for processing—and export. Here’s how NRDC’s Anthony Swift blogged about the dangers of the Keystone 1 pipeline:

Let’s remember, TransCanada claimed that the Keystone I pipeline system would be one that would “meet or exceed world-class safety and environmental standards” and leak an average of 1.4 times a decade.  In just its first year of operation, Keystone leaked fourteen times, a hundred times more leaks that TransCanada predicted. On its Canadian side, the pipeline has leaked at least twenty-one times.

The safety issues on Keystone I are consistent with the story of Mike Klink, a former TransCanada quality control inspector who worked on that pipeline. During his time with TransCanada, Mr. Klink reported systematic shortcuts that were taken in the construction of Keystone I which compromised its safety – including the use of inferior materials, haphazard methods and faked safety tests.

Bob Banderet near the Ludden Pumping Station.     Photos: Rocky Kistner/NRDC

Tar sands oil also is heavier and more difficult to transport in pipelines than regular oil, since the thick Canadian crude needs to be cut with chemicals, then heated and piped at higher temperatures and pressures. So it’s not surprising there are more leaks and accidents involving tar sands oil that conventional crude. Just look at the recent spate of tar sands oil spills in Canada, where over a million liters of tar sands oil has leaked from pipelines in recent months, threatening pristine drinking water sources and wildlife.

But in the US, farmers and ranchers are equally concerned about toxic tars sands oil getting into major drinking water supplies like the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s most important fresh water sources that rises to the surface in some areas of the Dakotas and Nebraska.

For ranchers and farmers in North Dakota, the tar sands pipeline safety record speaks for itself. Paul Matthews, a neighbor of Bob Banderet’s in southeastern North Dakota, built a house that now is just a half mile from the Keystone 1 pipeline. TransCanada bulldozed through his property a few years ago to lay the pipeline that he sees out his window every day.

“It’s a constant reminder to have this kind of threat around us," Matthews says. "Every time I draw a glass of water from my sink, I don’t know if it’s still clean. I don’t know if I go to bed at night if a catastrophe could ignite… You just don’t know those things. But with the powers of eminent domain, it was forced upon me.”

Paul Matthews and the Keystone pipeline near his home.  Photo: Rocky Kistner/NRDC 

Matthews and Banderet say they have tried to get more information from local and federal officials about the pumping station accident, as well as information about ongoing pipeline monitoring programs. Instead they say they have been stonewalled. “I’ve never heard from any of the federal agencies investigating these leaks,” Banderet says. “It seems they don’t want to hear the other side….It seems like they want to keep it out of sight and out of mind until everyone forgets…I feel like a lost voice in the wilderness.”

Voices of landowners like Banderet and Matthews need to be listened to in Washington, where politicians are besieged by deep-pocketed Big Oil lobbyists. But out on the front lines, farmers and ranchers know the real hazards associated with tar sands pipelines. And they aren’t about to be steamrolled until their voices are heard.  

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BSJun 26 2012 09:02 PM

I must admit, this is a very well written collection of mythys, misinformation, and outright falsehoods.

So how has Keystone I done since it's intial set of unfortunate troubles? 24 spills in 24 months? No?

And could you let us know what % of the landowners are actually dead set against construction of the southern leg of XL? I'm sure the percentage is quite small.

Mike H.Jun 28 2012 10:18 PM

As news of the problems of cleaning a up tar sands oil spill in Marshall MI grows, I think more landowners will be leery of Keystone XL. It cost Enbridge 10 times as much to clean this spill up versus conventional crude, since much of it sinks in water.

Pipeline continue to have issues seeing leaks in real time. Just take a look at the NTSB Reports to prove this.

BSJun 28 2012 11:12 PM

Pipelines have made great strides toward safer and safer operations even as more and more oil is transported by pipeline in this country.

Although things can change at any moment, as of May 31 of this year, US hazardous liquid pipelines were on track to have their best year ever in terms of fewest barrels spilled.

Jane KleebJun 29 2012 09:48 AM

Hello BS, which was a sarcastic name to choose for your name, and yet says so much about you already.

Bob and Paul are two guys who continue to stand up to TransCanada who misleads landowners and pays off elected officials everywhere they go.

For those of us who have seen what they do first-hand, TransCanada continues to prove why we question every move they make.

Pipelines are safe you the past few months over a half-dozen big leaks and spills happened most detected by citizens, not the fancy sensors companies claim to have.

If TransCanada's line was safe, they would not have had to shut it down under a Corrective Action Order by PHMSA wh/ is rarely issued and only when "life" is at risk.

If thats safe to you, then I don't really like your definition of safe.

BSJun 29 2012 07:45 PM

Actually, "BS" stands for "Bob Smith". I'd appreciate if you keep your comments civil.

Could you please post the data on the recent "big spills" so that I can have an idea of what you're talking about? Otherwise, it is just rumor. Also, the fact that a spill was reported by citizens does not mean that it was not also detected by a pipeline leak detection system.

And lastly, I do understand TransCanada had problems when they built and first started operating Keystone. They only have themselves to blame for that, and I would never attempt to defend them. However, NRDC continues to harp on "12 spills in 12 months" without ever commenting on the record since. They don't want their readers to realize that those problems have been fixed, and the pipeline is now operating safely.

BSJun 29 2012 07:47 PM

Also, paying off elected officials is highly illegal. If these payoffs are common knowledge as you claim, why don't you gather the evidence and have TransCanada's leaders thrown in jail?

As much as you and others seem to hate them, this would certainly go a long way towards your goal of stopping Keystone XL. The fact that you do not pursue criminal charges suggests that these bribes may not have actually occured.

AgeJul 1 2012 01:13 AM

You know... this is imported from Canada. We in the USA would like to stop importing crude of any kind. Please, stop oil importing insanity.

BSJul 1 2012 08:48 AM


Our oil imports have declined from 65% of the oil we use down to less than 50%. And virtually 100% of our electricity and natural gas is produced domestically. This means something like 75% of our energy is produced domestically. If you count coal and refined product exports against our imports, it may be 80%+ net energy independent.

As for Canadian oil, would you prefer that we instead get oil from places like the Middle East and Venezuela instead? US oil production is growing and reliance on imports is declining. But that takes time.

Since Keystone XL will allow for increased oil production, and since increased oil production helps keep prices down, I'd think most people would be in favor of it.

BSJul 2 2012 10:59 AM


Will you be coming back so that we can finish our discussion? Can you please give me details on these "over a half-dozen" large oil spills from US pipelines in the past few months?

The PHMSA data I referenced was through May, so I assume they all happened in June? Or did they not happen at all?

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