I picked the rainiest day of the year in Hutchinson County to visit Mile Marker 410 of the TransCanada Keystone tar sands oil pipeline.
What was happening on the other side of the road?
Galen Heckenlaible has had a hundred or so unexpected guests occupying his land at all hours for over two weeks, finding and fixing the 16,800-gallon leak from TransCanada’s Keystone oil pipeline. Sitting with one more visitor in his SUV at the edge of his land along Highway 18 on a rainy Monday wasn’t much more of an inconvenience for him.
Heckenlaible says he was initially prevented from entering 437th Avenue and reaching his driveway to the south when he came home from work at the dump on Saturday, April 2, around 4:30 p.m. Contractor Kelly Knodel, already on site to do the digging necessary to find the leak, vouched for Heckenlaible and his residence there on the west side of the spill site, and TransCanada’s people let him in.
Heckenlaible estimates TransCanada has dug out a 500- to 750-foot section of the pipeline to a depth in places of 18 to 20 feet. TransCanada has piled the uncontaminated excavated dirt and clay mostly on pasture where Heckenlaible’s son brings horses up from Nebraska to graze and run. Some of the dirt sits where Heckenlaible is trying to establish a shelterbelt. Making room for the dirt and the equipment moving it required TransCanada to knock down four trees.
Heckenlaible says TransCanada found the girth weld anomaly on his side, the west side, of 437th Ave, but the initial leak report came from someone who saw oil on water from the snow melt in the east ditch.
A B-Y Water District rural water line runs above the Keystone pipeline near Heckenlaible’s place. Heckenlaible says the water was cut off on Friday, April 15th, and that a temporary line was installed from a water pipe juncture just north of the pipeline excavation to his house that afternoon. Heckenlaible says 26 B-Y users total are hooked up to temporary water lines while something is done with the section of water pipe in the TransCanada dig.
I’d have gone in to look, but TransCanada wants no one else getting a look at the work site. Heckenlaible says he went out to the work site on his property with a camera and was immediately confronted by a worker who said Heckenlaible was too close to the dig and cannot take pictures there… on his property.
Heckenlaible says the TransCanada PR guy told him last week that they thought they might be leaving by May 2. Yesterday morning, TransCanada senior manager Andrew Craig out of Omaha told Heckenlaible TransCanada would be on site past that date. He’s gotten no word on when TransCanada will start restoring the pasture and shelterbelt. He’s gotten no word on when TransCanada will rebuild his driveway, which has been destroyed by constant use by heavy equipment.
The contaminated dirt sits across the road from the Stern Oil station in Freeman. Stern Oil is owned by Gillas Stern, who as a Hutchinson County Commissioner in 2008 voted for a resolution supporting the Keystone pipeline. One local man says the TransCanada trucks have been buying lots of gas in Freeman.