Thursday's spill comes four days before Nebraska is set to vote on whether TransCanada can go ahead with the Keystone XL pipeline

James Coleman, an energy law expert at SMU, talks about the recent Keystone Pipeline leak.

CALGARY — TransCanada Corp. said Friday that work is well underway to clean up a sizable oil leak at its Keystone pipeline in South Dakota that occurred days before a vote on the fate of the company’s flagship pipeline proposal.

The company said about 75 crew members, as well as government officials, are on site near Amherst, S.D., with a full complement of clean-up equipment to contain the 795,000-litre spill in a farmer’s field.

“TransCanada has taken this incident very seriously and is working with federal and state regulatory agencies,” the company said in an update. . . . 

The news might not sway the vote, but will bring greater focus to the issue, said James Coleman, an energy law expert at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.

“It’s the worst possible timing, and it’s a reasonably big spill….I think most people expect the commissioners to approve it regardless, but nonetheless, it’s not helpful.”

Among other concerns, opponents of Keystone XL say the pipeline would pass through the Sandhills, an ecologically fragile region in Nebraska of grass-covered sand dunes, and would cross the land of farmers and ranchers who don’t want it.

“There’s some states where the big issue is climate change, but Nebraska, the issue has been those local land-use impacts, and so I’m sure the commissioners will have that in mind,” said Coleman.

The spill near the border of Minnesota and the source of the Minnesota River has certainly raised concerns about Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline replacement project in the state, said Coleman.

He said he wasn’t sure, however, whether this Keystone spill will have an impact on current review of the pipeline in the state that’s already approved elsewhere, but it certainly will add fodder to those campaigning against oil pipelines.

“I think that this will continue to be a bigger and bigger political issue because, as climate campaigners haven’t had success in other areas, they feel like this is one area where they’ve been reasonably successful.”

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