South Dakota's Keystone pipeline, the controversial structure whose extension triggered the Standing Rock protests (see photos), has leaked 200,000 gallons of oil, or about 5,000 barrels.
In a statement, the Canadian oil company TransCanada, which manages the pipe, said that a loss of pressure inside the structure caused the leak, which workers detected at 7:00 a.m. U.S. Eastern Thursday morning. The leaking pipe section ran along a right-of-way 35 miles south of a pumping station in rural Marshall County, South Dakota.
TransCanada said the spill was contained within 15 minutes. South Dakota's Department of Environment and Natural Resources wasn't notified of the leak until 11:30 a.m. Eastern, more than four hours after the leak was detected, according to department groundwater scientist Brian Walsh, who spoke with local ABC affiliate KSFY.
No water contamination has been reported at this time, and emergency management officials and contractors have been invited to clean the spill site.
The Keystone pipeline carries crude oil over 1,136 miles, from Alberta, Canada to as far south as the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. In 2008, TransCanada moved to extend the pipeline by adding a 1,179-mile-long branch that would connect oil extracted from Alberta's oil sands to Nebraska. This extension, called Keystone XL, has sparked a national debate over the project's possible economic benefits and environmental harms.
The pipeline's protestors, who gathered at Standing Rock, a reservation spanning a part of North and South Dakota, argue that its construction will put the reservation's drinking water at risk. (These are the four major things you need to know about the Keystone XL pipeline.)
Dave Flute, chairman of South Dakota's Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, said the spill occurred about 30 miles west of his tribe's Lake Traverse Indian Reservation, a region covered with wetlands—some of which drain into the reservation from outside. No other Native American lands are closer.
Flute said an official representing the pipeline informed the tribe and the tribe's emergency management team about the spill earlier in the day, for which he's grateful. But tribal officials and many community members are worried.
"There are a lot of lakes and streams and underground water aquifers that are near our reservation and on our reservation, but I don't know exactly where it spilled," Flute said. "I don't know if it's on cropland or range or pasture lands, but I know we have a lot of good fertile soil here, and the level of concern is high with the tribe and the tribal council."
Flute said it's too soon to know how significant any damage will be.
"I don't think it's fair to say yet whether or not it will impact the water," he said. "We're just trying to stay positive and see if there's anything we can do to help."
He plans to visit the spill site first thing Thursday.
Douglas Yankton, vice-chair of the Spirit Lake Tribe, northeast of Bismarck in neighboring North Dakota, expressed frustration when told of the spill.
"As Native American people, that's why we're opposed to pipelines," Yankton said. "This is the reason why."
He said the plains tribes are especially concerned about potential spills near water sources. But accidents don't have to pollute ponds, streams, or aquifers to be troubling.
"Even if it's not near water, you're still doing damage to the land," he said. "The land is just as sacred as the water."
Yankton said he was concerned that the Trump administration could not be trusted to safeguard land or water anywhere around the pipeline.
"They don't even follow their own regulations," he said. "They just do what they want."
"Fracking, tar sands and crude oil pipeline spills, radioactive frack waste, and the associated chemicals being spilled and dumped into our rivers and aquifers have resulted in the largest public health experiment on Earth. How long will we stand by and watch?" Standing Rock protestor Sarah Jumping Eagle told National Geographic writer Saul Elbein last January.
The pipeline's XL extension had been stalled by the Obama administration. But in early 2017, President Trump gave TransCanada a presidential permit to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, with a capacity for transporting 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
TransCanada has said they will continue providing updates as they become available.
This story was updated with quotes from Douglas Yankton at 7:15 pm ET and with quotes from Dave Flute at 8:15 pm ET.