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Opposition to Keystone 1 Pipeline in South Dakota and huge oil leak, USA


The Keystone Pipeline is a network of pipelines that carry oil from the Canadian tar-sands to refineries in the United States. It is owned and operated by TransCanada Corp., a Canadian company operating pipelines, storage facilities and power generation plants in Canada, the USA and Mexico. The operational sections of the Keystone network were constructed in three phases. Keystone Phase 1, runs from Hardisty, Alberta, through Saskatchewan, Manitoba, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, to a storage facility in Illinois. While the Keystone-Cushing Extension runs from a refinery in Steele City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma; and the Gulf Coast Extension runs from Cushing to refineries in Texas. TransCanada is currently attempting to build a controversial fourth phase of the Keystone network, also known as Keystone XL.

When TransCanada announced its intentions to construct the Keystone Phase 1 pipeline in February 2005, the proposed route ran through  the Brown and Sprink counties of South Dakota. However, when TransCanada presented the proposed route of the pipeline to community members at the Clark Community centre in November of 2005, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission and community members were surprised to hear that the pipeline was now proposed to run through Day and Marshall counties [3].  TransCanada had not informed the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission of the proposed route change, and representatives had to field dozens of calls from concerned community members [3]. The route was later changed again in 2006, at the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of conservation efforts [6].

In August 2007, the grassroots resistance to the pipeline intensified in South Dakota, as opposition groups learn that TransCanada had quietly been awarded a special permit by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to operate the pipeline at a heightened maximum operating pressure (MOP) [5]. Normally, the MOP is limited to 72% of the stress level tolerable before deformation or failure of the pipeline, however, TransCanada had been granted the ability to operate the pipeline at an MOP of 80%. At the same time this information came to light, TransCanada was trying to block a request by Curt Hohn, an official running an operation that delivers treated water from Missouri to rural residents in South Dakota, and a leading voice among the opponents of the pipeline, to release all the names of the landowners along the corridor affected  by the pipeline [5]. Hohn and opposition groups wanted to inform those landowners of the dangers of having a pipeline and pumping stations on their land. The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission sided with opposition groups and publicly released the names of all those being affected by the pipeline [5].

In September of 2007, at a public hearing about the Keystone Pipeline, landowners and other opponents to the pipeline argued that the federal study by the U.S Department of State on the environmental, economic and social impacts of the project was incomplete, and should include the potential impacts of a newly proposed refinery in the state [4]. Curt Hohn and other opponents argued that the proposed Elk Point Hyperion refinery should be analyzed in conjunction with the pipeline, insinuating that the two projects were 'joined at the hip' [4]. At the time TransCanada said that it did not intend to supply the refinery with any oil; however, that is not longer the case, which casts doubt on whether or not they were truthful [11]. Others criticized the Governor, legislators, South Dakota members of Congress and county commissioners for not focusing on the concerns of landowners, and for not asking them if TransCanada was treating them fairly. Those landowners who had reached an agreement with TransCanada, were also not spared from criticism by more vocal opponents [4].  

On September 12th 2007, to the surprise of many, including the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, the procedural schedule for the permit hearing was announced without any objections from either sides of the conflict [9]. In the weeks leading up to the announcement of the procedural schedule, saw both side becoming confrontational. However,  the details of the process had been worked out in advance between the Public Utilities Commission's lawyers, TransCanada's local attorney and Curt Hohn and his attorneys representing WEB, the rural water delivery network he operates, during a phone conference [9]. The addition of a surrebuttal in the procedural schedule, which granted the ability for the Public Utilities Commission and 'interveners' (opponents) to rebut, after TransCanada's rebuttal, is what allowed the schedule to be announced without any objections [9]. 

In December 6, 2007 there was an unsworn public input session by members of the community, which was not considered in whether or not TransCanada would be granted a permit to operate the pipeline. 

After several public input sessions, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission granted TransCanada construction permits for the Keystone Phase 1 Pipeline, with 57 additional conditions. Steve Kolbeck, a Public Utilities Commissioner, said that he understood the fears of landowners, but that he was comfortable with the additional conditions placed upon TransCanada by the commission, and that he believed that the pipeline will be operated in a safe manner [11]. However, many landowners were unsatisfied with the conditions placed upon TransCanada and refused to sell their land over concerns over drinking water [11]. TransCanada sued landowners who refused to sell their land under the eminent domaine statutes, and construction of the Keystone Phase 1 pipeline began in 2008. The pipeline became operational on June 30th, 2010. 

Recent Oil Spill Re-ignited Concerns About Pipeline Safety: Once the Keystone pipeline had been constructed and became operational, resistance towards the pipeline had calmed; however it is beginning to flare up again over the oil spills that have occurred along the Keystone Phase 1 section of the pipeline over the past couple of years. The most recent being on November 16th, 2017, when Keystone Phase 1 pipeline had its third major spill, leaking roughly 210,000 gallons of oil onto agricultural land near the town of Amherst, South Dakota [1,2,8]. The site of the spill was adjacent to land with historical value to the  Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, according to Dave Flute, a tribal chairman [12]. Flute was on site with representatives of tribal emergency management and the tribal office of environmental protection, to meet with TransCanada in order to offer assistance, determine what had occurred, and to assess the potential environmental impacts of the spill [12]. Flute and tribal authorities were specifically concerned about the potential for oil to contaminate the aquifer. "We want to know how long is it going to take to dig up this plume of contaminated soil and how can we be assured, without a doubt, that it has not and will not seep into the aquifer." [12]

 The oil spill occurred just days before the state of Nebraska voted on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL extension, and despite the incident, TransCanada won approval of its ‘mainline alternative route.’[8] However, this recent oil spill is just one of many troubling incidents that have plagued the Keystone pipeline during its roughly 8 years of operation, and has regulators in the state of South Dakota concerned about future incidents in the state [8]. So much so that the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (SDPUC) has warned TransCanada that they have the authority to revoke the permit that allows them to operate the Keystone pipeline in the state if they are found to be at fault for the recent leak [8]. The concerns of regulators are not unfounded, TC had assured regulators that a leak of more than 2’100 gallons would only occur once every 11 years during its operation, and that a leak of that magnitude would only occur in South Dakota every 41 years, but the keystone pipeline has now already had two major leaks in the state, and a third in Montana, this in under 10 years of operation [2]. 

TransCanada identified that the likely cause of the leak was due to mechanical damage suffered during the original construction of the pipeline in 2008, while a weight was placed on the pipeline to prevent it from floating [1,2].

Opposition groups, which include several Sioux Native American tribes and environmental justice organizations, fear that the continued operation of the pipeline poses a threat to ground water, the livelihoods of farmers, and contamination of the lands of landowners [5,12]. Although the opposition to the already operational sections of the Keystone pipeline has calmed, that is not to say that the fight is over, as opposition groups have turned their attention towards preventing TransCanada from constructing their Keystone XL extension. 

Timeline of Most Recent Incidents:

~ April 2, 2016

TransCanada identifies a 400 barrel oil spill near Menno, SD [2].

~April 9, 2016

A corrective Action Order was presented to TC to rectify a leak in a cracked tie-in weld [2].

~ March 30, 2017

Corrective Action order closed after TC complies with all demands by state and federal regulators [2]

~ November 16, 2017

- 5:33am - TC Control Centre identifies a pressure and flow deviation

- 5:36am - TC shuts down the entire pipeline

- 9:15am - TC reports incident to the Natural Resource Commission [10]

~ November 26, 2017

- TC and Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) identified the site of the rupture [10]

-Preliminary reports suggest that the rupture was caused from mechanical damage during construction of the pipeline in 2008 [10]

-TC replaces damaged section and ships it to the National Transportation Safety Board for inspection  [10]

~ November 28, 2017

- TC resumes operation of Keystone Pipeline at reduced pressure [1]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Opposition to Keystone 1 Pipeline in South Dakota and huge oil leak, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:South Dakota
Location of conflict:Amherst
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Ecosystem Services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Keystone pipeline network is owned and operated by TransCanada Corp, and delivers Canadian tar-sands oil from Alberta, to various refineries throughout the United States. The section of pipeline which is discussed in this case, is Keystone 1, which is the first section of the Keystone Pipeline network to be completed. It became operational on June 30th, 2010, and delivers roughly 591'000 barrels of oil per day from Hardisty, Alberta, to Patoka, Illinois. [7]

The Affected Population given is the population of the Town of Amherst, where the leak occurred; however, the pipeline affects a much high percentage of people nationwide.

The Financial Institutions listed are those who bankroll TransCanada corp., but not necessarily the Keystone Pipeline.

Project area:34,560
Level of Investment:12,000,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:106
Start of the conflict:10/11/2005
Company names or state enterprises:TransCanada Corp. from Canada
Relevant government actors:South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources
South Dakota Public Utilities Commission
Federal Government of the United States of America (Trump)
Environmental Protection Agency
National Transportation Safety Board
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
International and Finance InstitutionsJP Morgan Chase (JPM) from United States of America
Wells Fargo (WFC) from United States of America
Citibank (C) from United States of America
Bank of Montreal
Alberta Treasury Branches
Bank of America (BofA) from United States of America
Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS) from Canada
The Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFG) from Japan
Barclays Bank from United Kingdom
Caisse Centrale Desjardins du Québec
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) from Canada
Crédit Agricole
Credit Suisse (CS) from Switzerland
Deutsche Bank (DB) from Germany
Export Development Canada (EDC) from Canada
HSBC (banking) from Hong Kong SAR, China
Mizuho Bank from Japan
National Bank of Canada
Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) (RBC) from Canada
SMBC Nikko Securities from Japan
TD Bank
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:The Sierra Club ( (
NOKXL Dakota (
Dakota Rural Action (
Yankton Sioux Tribe (
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (
Rosebud Tribe Sioux Tribe (
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (
WEB - Quality Rural Water Provider

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Refusal of compensation


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Environmental Justice has not been served since the pipeline is still in operation. Furthermore, even though the recent spill occurred days before Nebraska voted on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL extension, state regulators chose to grant TransCanada the permit to build and operate the pipeline without considering the recent leak.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Department of Transportation. 2006. "Special Permit: Keystone Pipeline". Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration.

Office Of Pipeline Safety. 2017. "Corrective Action Order." Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2]Axelrod, Joshua. 2017. "S.D. Tar Sands Oil Spill: Bad Omen for Keystone XL Safety". Natural Resource Defense Council.

[10] Office Of Pipeline Safety. 2017. "Corrective Action Order." Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration.

[11] Hetland, Cara. 2008. "SD approves new pipeline." MRP News.

[12] Cuevas, Mayra & Steve, Almasy. 2017. "Keystone Pipeline leaks 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota". CNN

[5]Mercer, Bob. 2007. "Archive: Battle lines drawn." Aberdeen News.

[8]Volcovici, Valerie. 2017. "South Dakota Regulators Say They Could Evoke Keystone Permit After Spill." Reuters.

[9]Mercer, Bob. 2007. "Archive: Oil pipeline hearing schedule set". Aberdeen News.

[3]Arthur, Emily. 2005. "Archive: TransCanada Keystone route to be announced." Aberdeen News.

[1]McKenna, Phil. 2017. "Cause of Keystone Pipeline Spill Worries South Dakota Officials as Oil Flow Restarts". Inside Climate News

[6]Waltman, Scott. 2006. "Archive: Pipeline route changes again". Aberdeen News.

[7]Reuters. 2010. "UPDATE 1-Keystone oil pipeline "halfway" to full capacity." Reuters

[4]Mercer, Bob. 2007. "Archive: Landowners lash out at pipeline." Aberdeen News.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

EDM Services, Inc. 1993. "Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Risk Assessment." California State Fire Marshal.

Axelrod, Joshua. 2015. "New Documents Reveal Serious Corrosion Concerns for Tar Sands Pipelines." Natural Resource Defense Council.

Meta information

Contributor:James Joshua Young - [email protected] - Lund Univeristy
Last update13/02/2018



Keystone Pipeline Leak


Keystone Pipeline Leak near Amherst, SD

Here you can see the oil soaked patch of land where the leak occurred.

Demonstrators resisting Keystone XL

The recent spill reignites the conversation about pipeline safety concerns, and strengthens opposition to the Keystone XL Extension