A study by John Stansbury, Ph.D., an environmental engineer at the University of Nebraska examines the “worst-case scenarios” if there were a major spill from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline crossing of the Yellowstone and other locations. The pipeline is designed to carry crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to oil refineries in Texas. Stansbury contends that company assessments are too rosy, as far as size of potential spills and how long it would take to shut the pipeline down. He calls his study a starting point for other scientific research needed to delve deeper into possible environmental damage. He says, that means, full disclosure about the pipeline contents must be made.
The report, sets out four worst-case scenarios for a spill on the Keystone XL project. It appears just 10 days after a break in an ExxonMobil pipeline released at least 42,000 US gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone river. The pipeline has generated opposition, in part because it would go through the porous soils and high water tables in the Sandhills, which mark the northern boundary of the massive Ogallala Aquifer. Professor Stansbury, said that a worst-case spill in the Sandhills region of Nebraska could pollute 4.9 billion gallons of groundwater with a plume of contaminants 40 feet thick, 500 feet wide and 15 miles long. “This plume, and other contaminant plumes from the spill, would pose serious health risks to people using that groundwater for drinking water and irrigation,”
Stansbury said TransCanada Corp. has ignored some historical data regarding pipeline spills and assumed the Keystone XL would be built so well it would have half as many spills as other pipelines in service.
He also said the “tar sands” crude oil that would move through the pipeline is more corrosive than the conventional crude oil transported in existing pipelines. “All of these factors tend to increase spill frequency … resulting in 91 major spills over a 50-year design life of the pipeline,” he said. Stansbury, who also is a risk-assessment instructor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, pointed to a “very similar pipeline” that ruptured in 2010 and spewed 800,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
Jane Kleeb, of the anti-pipeline advocacy group Bold Nebraska, said the report is alarming. “The report confirms one thing — Nebraskans cannot take TransCanada at their word,” she said. “While TransCanada is busy assuring elected officials that everything is fine and will be fine, Nebraska scientists and water experts are issuing warning signs over and over again. “The report gives black and white evidence to county officials, state officials and federal officials that this pipeline is not ready to be laid because there are too many unanswered questions and safety risks.”