The TransCanada Hardisty Terminal 2, under construction in anticipation of the Keystone XL pipeline approval, in Alberta, Canada. Picture: BLOOMBERG
The TransCanada Hardisty Terminal 2, under construction in anticipation of the Keystone XL pipeline approval, in Alberta, Canada. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Calgary — The Keystone crude pipeline was shut down on Wednesday after leaking thousands of barrels of crude in North Dakota, the third spill along the pipeline’s route in less than three years.

TC Energy’s 590,000 barrel per day (bpd) pipeline that carries crude from Alberta to refineries in the US Midwest and Gulf Coast ruptured on October 29 and caused a spill near the city of Edinburg in North Dakota, Brent Nelson, an emergency manager for Walsh County, said by phone. About 9,120 barrels were released, some of which impacted a wetland, according to the North Dakota department of environmental quality.

TC Energy declared force majeure on the pipeline system after the shutdown, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the information is private. An emergency response team has contained the impacted area, the company said in a statement on its website. The company closed the pipe system from Hardisty, Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma and to Wood River/Patoka, Illinois.

The spill comes as TC Energy seeks to expand the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The company said Keystone was probably the source of a spill in Missouri in February that shut a segment of the line. In 2017, a spill in South Dakota reduced rates on the line for months, causing Canadian oil prices to collapse.

The spill is estimated to be 457m in length by 4.5m wide, the division of water quality within the North Dakota department of environmental quality said in a statement Wednesday.

“If you start to see this situation where flows are reduced for a long period of time, that’s when you’ll see a price impact” on both US futures and Canadian crude prices, Mike Walls, an analyst at Genscape, said by phone.

Refinery impacts

The line’s closure is likely to affect US Gulf Coast refineries seeking alternative heavy crude supplies amid sanctions on Venezuela, lagging output from Mexico and oil cartel Opec  production cuts. At the same time, Alberta’s oil producers are struggling to cope with production limits imposed earlier this year when too much oil encountered too few pipelines, causing prices to collapse.

Heavy Western Canadian Select crude’s discount to West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures widened $2 to an $18.75 a barrel discount on Wednesday, the widest since last December, data compiled by Bloomberg shows. After the Keystone spill in South Dakota in 2017, prices widened from about $11 a barrel to more than $25 a barrel.

The long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline has been on the drawing board for a decade. The 1,900km pipeline would help carry 830,000 more barrels of crude a day from Alberta’s oil sands to US Gulf Coast refineries. The project has been a top target of environmentalists, who argue that the pipeline would contribute to catastrophic climate change.

No new export pipelines out of Canada are planned until late 2020 at the earliest, when Enbridge’s line three is scheduled to start operation. Two other pipeline projects, including the government-owned Trans Mountain line to Vancouver area, as well as the proposed Keystone XL, have faced regulatory and legal delays in addition to fierce opposition from environmental groups and landowners.

Keystone runs from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, where it splits into two segments running to Cushing and to Patoka, Illinois. From those hubs, oil is transferred to other lines, including TC Energy’s Marketlink pipeline which runs to the US Gulf Coast, home to about half the nation’s refining capacity.

Bloomberg