BRAMPTON – Five years after he discovered a geyser of crude oil shooting out from a TransCanada pumping station on the Keystone pipeline, rancher Bob Banderat still has questions.
The southeast North Dakota man reported a May 7, 2011, spill that released 21,000 gallons of crude oil from the Ludden Pump Station near Brampton in Sargent County.
Banderat was going to check his cows early that morning when he looked toward the pump station adjacent to his property and saw oil shooting at least 60 feet high, past the tops of cottonwood trees.
The weather was calm that day, and most the oil came straight down and was contained within the pump station. A misting of oil got off site and affected a small pond, according to the North Dakota Department of Health.
“If it had been a windy day like today, there would have been all kinds of oil off site and into the neighboring land,” Banderat said. “We were very lucky. It could have been a mini disaster.”
Since then, Banderat says he’s become a “pipeline junkie,” devouring reports from federal pipeline regulators and monitoring news about other pipeline spills, including this week’s news of a leak on the Keystone in South Dakota. Officials are estimating that 400 barrels of oil, or 16,800 gallons, leaked near Freeman in southeast South Dakota.
The Keystone pipeline carries oil south from Canada to U.S. refineries.
Banderat remains skeptical about TransCanada’s ability to detect leaks on pipelines and testified in Nebraska about his concerns when the Keystone XL pipeline was being proposed.
Reports on the May 2011 spill say that personnel in TransCanada’s control center detected a change in flow rates on the Keystone pipeline and were investigating when Banderat reported it.
“They always claimed that they knew that there was a leak going on and they were in the process of shutting it down,” Banderat said. “That is very, very hard for me to believe.”
Banderat said the dispatcher on the emergency line asked him “Is this a drill or is this a joke?” when he called. And then after being on hold for four or five minutes, he was put through to the control center to someone who didn’t seem to know there was something going on with the pipeline.
“It sounded like they were as amazed as I was,” Banderat said.
Banderat said oil was releasing for about 30 minutes when he first discovered it and released for 50 minutes total before it was shut down.
“We’ll never know if they really knew something was going on or not of if that was just all spin afterwards,” he said.
TransCanada has had no other significant spills in North Dakota, according to the Department of Health. Three other incidents have been reported but involved 5 gallons or less.
This week, TransCanada held meetings with landowners in northwest North Dakota about the proposed Upland Pipeline, which would carry oil from the Bakken north to Canada.
TransCanada says the proposed pipeline will have state-of-the art technology to detect leaks, including SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition), that will be monitored by control center operators who can shut down the pipeline remotely. The pipeline also will be routinely inspected from the air and on the ground.
Banderat said landowners should ask lots of questions and get together with neighbors to negotiate with the company. In his case, Banderat said he received notices threatening use of condemnation before he signed an easement.
“I’m not against pipelines per se. I just don’t like the way they come in and start pushing you around. They’re holding all the cards. They’ve got eminent domain on their side, they’ve got most of the regulators and the legislators on their side. It’s an uphill fight,” Banderat said.