Questions remain about pipeline spill

May 21, 2012

Two Cogswell farmers have written a letter to the North Dakota Public Service Commission – raising questions about what operators of the Keystone oil pipeline are doing to insure safety. As Prairie Public’s Dave Thompson reports, this stems from an oil spill last May.

The leak happened last May seventh. Cogswell farmer Bob Banderet saw it.

"It was early in the morning," said Banderet. " I was going out to check cows, at the tail end of calving. Walking towards my shop, and I looked up at the horizon. The pumping station is a mile-and-a-half away. And there was a black geyser of oil shooting 60, 80 feet in the air straight up from the pumping station.”

Banderet says he called the pipeline to report the incident. But Trans-Canada pipeline spokesman Terry Cunha  says sophisticated monitoring equipment on the line had already detected the leak.

"We can clearly tell you and articulate that the system was already in the process of shutting down when we received the call from the landowner letting us know of the incident,” said Cunha

Banderet says he’s skeptical.   “This went on for 40 minutes before I called --  and, like I said, I think it was my call that initiated the shutdowns. 40 minutes isn’t an instant shutdown, like they want you to believe.”

The leak investigation is still an open case. And Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer says he, too, has some questions.

 “Well, that should be easy to prove," said Cramer at a PSC administrative meeting. He said the question is --  should they be required to prove that.

Trans Canada’s Terry Cunha says the matter has been investigated by federal authorities.   “We have always committed ourselves in building a safe pipeline," said Cunha.  "And that’s what we have been able to identify here, not just by our own records, but by the fact that we were reviewed by the US Department of Transportation, a federally regulated agency reviewed our records, found no discrepancies, and found that our system did what it is designed to do.”

TransCanada is also supposed to check the route of the Keystone pipeline by air. Cunha says the company is doing that,  bi-weekly.  "And it’s just one of the many steps that we take to again monitor our pipeline system.”

Landowner Bob Banderet says he’s not convinced of that, either.   “Right now, as far as these fly-over compliance things, it’s a check-box on a report. Did you complete the fly-overs? Yes, we did. Somebody needs to look into that once in a while – auditing.”

Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer says that information should be readily available.

 “When you ask them if they’re doing it, and they say ‘yes,’ that’s the sum total of the evidence you deal with," said Cramer.  "And in an incident where there’s allegations, or at least questions being raised, is it our job to find out if they’re really doing that – look at evidence, whether it’s fuel bills or manifests or flight schedules or whatever it is, to assure that it’s actually taking place?”

The PSC will further discuss what role it will play – or whether it will defer to an ongoing federal investigation.