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Published November 30, 2010, 06:43 PM

Group Questions Oil Pipeline Response Resources

A lack of equipment and personnel has left TransCanada unprepared to deal with a major spill of crude oil on its Keystone pipeline system, according to a report by a nonprofit environmental group.

By: Associated Press,

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A lack of equipment and personnel has left TransCanada unprepared to deal with a major spill of crude oil on its Keystone pipeline system, according to a report by a nonprofit environmental group.

The 60-page report from Plains Justice claims that TransCanada has overstated its ability to respond to a pipeline rupture.

"Areas that have experienced major oil spills, such as Alaska and the Gulf Coast, have large amounts of equipment and personnel ready on the ground," the report states. "The Northern Great Plains does not."

A TransCanada official disputed the report's findings.

"We believe we are building a very safe and efficient pipeline, and that we have the appropriate manpower and equipment to respond to an emergency," TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha told the Argus Leader.

The company's plan has been approved by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Cunha said. The Keystone pipeline's safety system is monitored 24 hours a day with satellite technology, and operators can quickly shut off the flow, he said.

TransCanada, based in Calgary, built the Keystone pipeline through eastern South Dakota to ship crude oil from Alberta to refineries in Illinois and Oklahoma. It is awaiting U.S. State Department approval on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would run through western South Dakota to carry Canadian oil to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas.

The pipeline would cross Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. TransCanada has also proposed connecting from the pipeline to the Bakken oil field in Montana and North Dakota. The proposed path crosses several rivers and the massive underground Ogallala aquifer, which supplies drinking water to about 2 million people in eight states and supports irrigation.

The pipeline system is seen by supporters as a key step toward reducing the nation's dependence on oil from overseas, but critics argue that a spill could have disastrous effects in South Dakota and other states.

Paul Blackburn, a lawyer for Plains Justice, said speed is essential in responding to a spill. There's no doubt that TransCanada could eventually gather the resources to mop up a spill, but the oil would have spread by then, said Blackburn, who wrote the report.

TransCanada maintains three caches of spill-response equipment around the state, and it relies on contractors to supply additional equipment and personnel.

The report was commissioned by Dakota Rural Action, which represents landowners along the pipeline route.

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