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What are they made of? Do they leak – and why? Why are the pipelines Keystone is inflicting on us especially dangerous? Read this page and learn.

Oil pipelines are made of plain carbon steel. They leak because they rust from the water in the oil: unlike the oil in your car, which prevents rust, crude oil contains a lot of water. Tar from the Tar Sands would contain more water than most, because super-heated water is used to blast it out of the earth. The water mixes with dirt that has fallen out of the crude oil to form a sludge at the bottom of the pipe, which breeds bacteria that produce sulfur and speed up the process of corrosion.


Why Pipelines Corrode: Read about it in more detail.


Corrosion is not always detected in time: by the time the pipeline at Prudhoe Bay was shut down, it had caused a major spill and lost 70% of its mass to corrosion. This company’s pipelines have leaked 572 times in the last six years, almost 100 leaks a year. (More info.) And the pipelines they are planning for us now are made of thinner steel than their previous ones, so they will rust through more quickly. Update, 2020: A major Spill by a Keystone pipeline here in North Dakota was one of the worst yet.


The first symptom of corrosion is a pinhole leak. A pinhole leak of 2% is not detectable by Keystone’s instruments, so a leak in a farmer’s field might not be noticed for months. If 2% of 485,000 barrels per day leaks for 90 days before it comes to the surface and someone notices it, over four hundred acres will be flooded with oil or water-soluble toxins, which would reach the river in rain or spring runoff. A pinhole leak under water in a wetland might not be noticed until the pipe had burst, and the pipeline route crosses countless wetlands that drain into Lake Ashtabula and the Sheyenne.


Pipelines also split along their welding seams and fracture from overstress. The split in this pipeline was over 69 inches long, leaked 282,000 gallons of oil, and caused a fire that killed two people in Minnesota.


Pipelines can be damaged in transit: they should be stacked very precisely in a railroad car so the seams do not touch lumber, bands, or other pipe. This is not always done and may have been a cause of the Minnesota fire.



This fire was caused by an oil leak. The smoke plume at right was one mile high and five miles long.






How many pipelines are planned for North Dakota? Keystone didn’t tell us, but they asked the South Dakota Public Service Commission for an easement for multiple pipelines, and what goes through South Dakota must also go through North Dakota. The diagram at left shows a row of five pipelines in Minnesota, one of which caused the fire pictured above.


According to South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds, at least three pipelines are planned for us in the immediate future, and there many be many, many more. The pipelines are to be a major conduit for the huge, toxic Tar Sands strip mines of Alberta. There are plans to increase these mines fivefold, so it’s not unreasonable to believe there may be as many as fifteen.


Keystone plans to put not one but at least three such pipelines much too close upslope from the Sheyenne River and Lake Ashtabula. To help stop it, please download and circulate our initiative petition.