(Reuters) – A major oil spill from the Keystone Pipeline in North Dakota last week has intensified opposition to the controversial expansion of Keystone XL among landowners along the route, who say they hope to use the event to help block or stop the project in court.
FILE PHOTO: Oil spilled from a section of the Keystone pipeline is seen in Walsh County, North Dakota, USA, October 30, 2019. Taylor DeVries / North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality / Handout via REUTERS
Operator TC Energy Corp. ( TRP.TO ) is securing landfall for Keystone XL from scores to reluctant landowners in Nebraska, one of the latest obstacles to a project linking Canada's oilfield to US refineries that have been delayed in over a decade of environmental opposition.
The approximately 9,120-barrel bar from the existing Keystone line brings the number of key releases since the system was built a decade ago to four – much higher than the company estimated in its risk assessments before it was approved – which raises concerns Keystone XL will be equally problematic. (Read story here)
"The mess confirms what we have been warning people about for the last 10 years," said Jeanne Crumly, who owns a cattle on Keystone XL's approved trail and fears that a spill could contaminate her land and harm her cows.
Brian Jorde, attorney for the Nebraska Landowners, said he expects the landowners to file "many appeals to the District Court" to oppose TC Energy's efforts to seize land by prominent domain, the legal provision permitting a government or company to take control of private land to the public.
Jorde said that TC Energy had already begun eminent domain lawsuits against 89 families living along the Keystone XL route since securing their permits, and that appraisers were working to establish a "real value" for the land that would be paid to owners to complete the process.
These assessments can be appealed, he said.
“We will take this as far as we can in court and fight for as long as we can. We hope a jury will be aware of the latest messes when deciding, says Diana Steskal, one of the landowners.
TC Energy officials did not respond to requests for comment. The company has said that its expansion project Keystone XL can be run safely.
President Donald Trump has been a vocal supporter of the Keystone XL expansion project, saying it will create jobs and improve US energy security. He reversed a decision by former President Barack Obama to deny the project a federal permit for environmental reasons.
The cause of last week's spill on the existing Keystone Line – which runs 3,455 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, to the Texas coast – has not yet been identified.
Prior to that spill, the system released 9,700 barrels of oil in a South Dakota wetland area in 2017, and about 400 barrels each at events in South Dakota in 2016 and North Dakota in 2011.
The events highlight that the existing Keystone the system has leaked significantly more oil, and more often, in the US than suggested in the risk assessments the company gave to regulators before it was built.
These risk assessments estimated that a leak of more than 50 barrels would occur "not more than once every seven to 11 years over the entire length of the pipeline in the United States," according to documents previously reported by Reuters. (Read story here)
Jane Kleeb, president of the Bold Alliance, which has championed the Keystone XL expansion proposal for several years, said the group could try to challenge TC Energy again for the state Public Service Commission, which had approved the route through Nebraska .
"TC Energy has deceived the state and its residents that their pipelines are safe," she said.
PSC spokeswoman Deb Collins said the regulatory agency had no plans to reopen the case despite the recent spill. "Our role in the process is complete," she said.
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Leslie Adler