North Dakota Pipeline Spill: U.S. Averages One Pipeline Failure Every Other Day
The Keystone pipeline began leaking last week, again.
Pipeline spills should be rare events, considering the risk such incidents pose to the environment and human health. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in the United States, where leaking pipelines have triggered an average of one spill every other day since 2016.
North Dakota Pipeline Spill Among 10 Largest in U.S. History
Last week’s North Dakota pipeline spill attracted media attention because it occurred along the Keystone network. TC Energy – formerly Trans Canada – owns the system and is planning to begin construction on a fourth phase, the controversial Keystone XL, sometime next year.
This isn’t the first time the Keystone has sprung a leak. In fact, the very same pipeline burst two years earlier in South Dakota, spilling what was initially said to be 210,000 gallons of oil onto adjacent farmland. Just five months later, however, TC Energy was forced to admit that the actual spill was more than twice that size.
Over 600 Significant Pipeline Failures in Each of the Last 2 Years
While the latest North Dakota leak and the rupture in 2017 now rank among ten the largest onshore crude oil spills in the nation’s history, the country’s pipeline woes go well beyond the Keystone.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) defines a significant incident as any pipeline failure that results in:
- Fatality or injury requiring in-patient hospitalization;
- $50,000 or more in total costs, measured in 1984 dollar;
- Highly volatile liquid releases of 5 barrels or more or other liquid releases of 50 barrels or more; or
- Liquid releases resulting in an unintentional fire or explosion.
According to data from the PHMSA, the nation experienced 636 significant pipeline incidents in 2018, and 647 the year before. Pipeline explosions and other failures cause an average of 12 deaths each year and 66 injuries.
Fortunately, no one was injured or killed when the Keystone pipeline failed in North Dakota last Tuesday, and so far, it doesn’t appear that the spill damaged any drinking water sources or had much of an impact on wildlife.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case in early August, when a section of Enbridge’s Texas Eastern Transmission Co. pipeline exploded in Lincoln County, Kentucky, tragically killing one woman and injuring 6 others.
Nor was it the case in September 2018, when an over-pressurized natural gas line in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley triggered a series of explosions that devastated several communities and left a teenager dead.
Pipeline Regulation Sorely Lacking at State, Federal Level
The near-constant string of pipeline explosions, accidents, and spills has increased calls for more regulation at both the state and federal level. Yet earlier this year, President Trump signed an executive order making it harder for states to challenge new pipeline construction.
Just two years ago, the governor of North Dakota approved legislation freeing TC Energy and other pipeline operators from reporting any spill under 220 gallons. Most recently, elected officials in Texas weakened a proposal to regulate rural gathering pipelines following several deadly explosions.
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