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North Dakota oil spill affected nearly 10 times the land as initially estimated

DEQ Spill Investigation program manager says it's common for early estimates to be off, and that the cleanup process will not be affected.

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TC Energy reported an oil spill in the rural Edinburg area, about 30 miles northwest of Grafton, N.D. on Wednesday, Oct. 30. Submitted photo
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EDINBURG, N.D. — The Keystone pipeline oil spill outside Edinburg has impacted about 209,100 square feet, or 4.8 acres, of land, a state Department of Environmental Quality official said. The department initially estimated the spill impacted about a half acre of land.

The pipeline, operated by Canada-based TC Energy, resumed operation last week after spilling about 383,000 gallons of crude oil on Oct. 29. Though estimates of the size of the land impacted were off, officials say initial reports of the volume of oil released in the spill remains accurate.

"During the initial response to the incident, we provide the best estimate at the time of the response," said a TC Energy statement. "However, as we begin to clean up and remediate the impacted area, we are able to get a more accurate assessment of the area. However, the volume of oil that was released has not increased and in fact, we have recovered nearly 8,100 barrels to date."

DEQ Spill Investigation Program Manager Bill Suess said that initial estimates of the size of the land impacted by a spill are never very accurate because they are generally the result of a "quick and dirty" survey of the site without taking measurements. While it's common for early estimates to be off because of this, Suess said it's rare for an estimate to be this off. He suggested that the inaccurate measurement may be because the color of the soil made it hard to distinguish the oil from the land.

"I flat out can't explain it," he said.

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Despite the updated size of the spill, Suess said it doesn't change the urgency or the timeline of the cleanup process.

"This is a significant spill as far as size goes," Suess said. "But if this didn't have the name Keystone on it, nobody would really be paying much attention to it, because we've had bigger oil spills from pipelines."

He added that the time of year and the location of the spill in a drainage ditch greatly reduce its potential for environmental impact.

"Had it been spring flood time, we might be talking a different story," he said. "But with the timing that it happened and where it's located and everything, the long-term environmental impacts are going to be pretty minimal."

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