SOS Home






Questions and Answers


Q: What will the Keystone pipeline carry?


A: Tar, or bitumen, from the Tar Sands strip mines of northern Alberta. This is a thick substance like asphalt, which must be heated or mixed with a solvent to flow though a pipeline. Water-soluble toxins in the tar – mercury, arsenic, and powerful carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – would be much more hazardous in the event of a leak than conventional crude oil.


Q: Would the pipelines leak?


A: Yes. This company’s pipelines have leaked 572 times in six years – that’s almost 100 leaks a year. To see why a leak occurs, click here. The bitumen has more sulfur and water in it than ordinary crude oil, and the currently planned pipelines would be made of thinner steel and operate under higher pressure than their previous pipelines, so it would happen especially quickly.


Q: Would the oil really get into the river and lake?


A: Yes. The pipeline’s current route parallels the Sheyenne River, the Fordville Aquifer, and Lake Ashtabula, which supplies Fargo with water, for 80 miles. Most of this is within three miles upslope from the river and lake, and it goes under the Sheyenne at Fort Ransom. Toxins could reach the river within as little as four minutes and would certainly reach it eventually.


Q: Wouldn’t a leak be found and fixed?


A: Not for as much as three months. The carbon steel pipes inevitably corrode, and the first symptom is a pinhole leak. A pinhole leak of 2% is not detectable; so a leak in a field might not be found for months, and a leak under water in a wetland might not be found until the pipe burst open.


Q: What would it do to farmland?


A: Ruin it, probably forever. A pinhole leak could spoil more than 400 acres before being detected, and the soil can never be replaced. Even before a leak occurs, the warmth from the heated bitumen raises soil temperatures too high for proper germination.


Q: Is there a better place to put the pipeline?


A: Yes. A single pipeline can be placed along the right of way of Highway 32 or Highway 29, where a leak would be spotted much more quickly than in a wetland or the middle of a farmer’s field. It would utilize land that has already been disturbed in building the highway, skirt the edges of farming fields rather then cut through the center, and most important, it would be on the other side of a moraine – a high gravel ridge – from the river and lake, where a leak would flow away from the water. This location, in fact, was Keystone’s first choice. Multiple pipelines should be placed outside this area entirely.


Q: How can we make them move it?


A: By an initiative which would put the issue on the November ballot and let the voters decide. The initiated measure reads: “No pipeline to carry crude oil shall be built within six miles of a lake or aquifer which supplies water to more than 5,000 people.”


Q: Isn’t it too late for an initiative?


A: No. There is good evidence that Keystone plans to put at least two more pipelines along the same easement, and since this is to be a major corridor for the Tar Sands strip mines of Alberta, which are to be made five times larger within “a short time span,” it is not unlikely that there will be fifteen or more. Even if the vote isn’t in time to stop the first one, it will stop the others. If Keystone wants to put them all together, rather than go through the process of acquiring easements from unwilling landowners all over again, they will move the first one also.


Q: I live in Valley City and want the pipeline workers to spend money at my business. How will this affect their spending?


A: We are asking them to move one pipeline five miles east, not to the other side of the world. The workers will still stay in Valley City and spend money here. They might spend a little more at Valley City’s gas stations – and take a little less home to Florida. If many pipelines are built, the destruction they would cause would far outweigh any short-term benefits to this area.


Q: How can I help?


A: In several ways:

1.      Join SOS and/or the Dakota Resource Council. Joining SOS is free; just email and ask to become a member. DRC dues are $35 a year.

2.      Donate to either or both organizations – to DRC through their website or to SOS by emailing You can use PayPal to donate to SOS if you wish. SOS will have to mount a media campaign against Keystone before the election, and Keystone has very deep pockets. DRC needs money to continue to fight the pipeline in the courts.

3.      Most important of all: please carry a petition and ask people to sign – even if it’s just your own family and friends. When initiatives don’t get enough signatures, it is because there aren’t enough circulators. The people can support a measure by a huge majority, but if there aren’t enough circulators, they don’t get a chance to sign.

You can print out our petition and instructions using the link at the top, or email and let us know how many petitions to send you. Each petition holds 35 signatures.

4.      Needless to say, vote for the measure in November!