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More than 75 specialists work on Keystone pipeline leak cleanup near SD, ND border

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AMHERST, S.D. -- More than 75 emergency responders are working on cleanup of the Keystone Pipeline leak near the South Dakota-North Dakota border in a pasture close to the small town of Amherst.

TransCanada Corp., which owns the pipeline, said crews are working around the clock with state and federal regulators monitoring the situation in far northeast South Dakota about 20 miles south of the North Dakota border.

A cause of the leak that spilled about 210,000 gallons, or 5,000 barrels, of oil into the soil around the pipeline buried 4 to 6 feet underground is not expected to be known for “several days, maybe next week,” said Brian Walsh, an environmental scientist with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

When contacted, the company would not comment on a possible cause.

Walsh said the amount of oil leaked has stayed steady since the investigation began early Thursday morning, Nov. 16, and that it’s not believed the Dakota Aquifer, which is 800 to 900 feet below ground, or any surface water in the area was affected.

He said he hasn’t heard yet if any shallow groundwater sources in the area were affected.  One staff member from his department as well as federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration officials are monitoring the situation as the pipeline is exposed in the pastureland..

Among the cleanup crew are specialists in environmental management, engineering, pipeline integrity, emergency response and metallurgy (which studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements).

The company said on Friday, Nov. 17, that the leak is controlled and “there is no threat to public safety.”

“Crews and equipment were dispatched and the area is being managed to ensure safety and security for personnel and residents,” the company said in a statement released Friday. “TransCanada workers and nationally recognized, industry leading experts (with proper safety equipment) began developing response plans. We continue to work methodically and around-the-clock on this process.”

The pipeline runs from Alberta in Canada and then through the central United States, including the eastern parts of South Dakota and North Dakota, to a hub in Cushing, Okla., and then to the Gulf Coast. The southern leg of the pipeline is still open, but the northern route remains shut down.

The leak was detected about 6 a.m. on Thursday after a pressure drop was recorded. Crews were sent out immediately.

The company also wouldn’t say how long the pipeline would be shut down.