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Know the West

Nationwide, oil pipeline spills are a near-daily reality

As Nebraska OKs Keystone XL route, a look at U.S. oil spills since 2015.


A Nebraska panel on Monday approved an alternative route for the Keystone XL pipeline, removing the last regulatory hurdle for the $8-billion pipeline project. Just last week, 5,000 barrels — or 210,000 gallons — of crude oil spewed out of the ruptured Keystone pipeline, a sister project, onto the earth in rural South Dakota. It was the worst breach yet of this particular line, confirming the fears of those who oppose large crude oil and natural gas lines.

Pipelines are often touted as safer than train or truck for transporting oil and other hazardous materials. But over the last two-and-a-half years, crude oil and hazardous materials pipelines across the U.S. busted at a rate of more than once per day, through corrosion, floods, lightning, vehicles and vandals. That doesn’t even take into account incidents on natural gas lines. 

Some 3.6 million gallons of crude oil spilled in total, and five oil spills were as large or larger than the Keystone incident. Less than a year ago, more than 300,000 gallons of crude spewed from a pipeline into a creek North Dakota. Various incidents killed or injured people, forced evacuations, contaminated waterways and smothered fish and birds.

Click the below image to be redirected to the interactive version. Then, hover over the circles on the map for more details. (Note: an incident report for the November Keystone Pipeline incident has not yet been posted, and natural gas incidents are not included.) 

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Follow @jonnypeace