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TransCanada Occupying Leak Site Several More Weeks, Limiting Landowner Activities

I picked the rainiest day of the year in Hutchinson County to visit Mile Marker 410 of the TransCanada Keystone tar sands oil pipeline.

Mile Marker 410 of TransCanada Keystone pipeline, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 18 and 437th Avenue, six miles west of downtown Menno, South Dakota.
Mile Marker 410 of TransCanada Keystone pipeline, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 18 and 437th Avenue, six miles west of downtown Menno, South Dakota.

What was happening on the other side of the road?

Cory Allen Heidelberger at Keystone Freeman/Menno spill site
Can’t take a leak, can’t take a picture of the leak….

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.

Galen Heckenlaible, landowner affected by TransCanada Keystone pipeline spill.
Galen Heckenlaible, landowner affected by TransCanada Keystone pipeline spill.

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.

Galen Heckenlaible's cross peeks up between piles of clay and topsoil removed from the pipeline route in the search for the leak.
Galen Heckenlaible’s cross peeks up between piles of clay and topsoil removed from the pipeline route in the search for the leak.

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.

Temporary yellow water line runs from a B-Y Water District line up the hill to Galen Heckenlaible's house.
Temporary yellow water line runs from a B-Y Water District line up the hill to Galen Heckenlaible’s house.

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.

TransCanada erected several No Trespassing signs on Schultz's land (seen close up here) and Heckenlaible's land (homestead visible in distance) well outside of the pipeline easement zone.
TransCanada erected several No Trespassing signs on Schultz’s land (seen close up here) and Heckenlaible’s land (homestead visible in distance) well outside of the pipeline easement zone.

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.

TransCanada Keystone pipeline spill site
TransCanada Keystone pipeline spill site, photographed from a road not controlled by TransCanada.

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.

Frank Kloucek at Keystone Freeman/Menno spill site
Even my stunt driver, Frank Kloucek, can’t drive down this stretch of 437th Ave. Springfield Police Chief Dean DeJong was manning the north entrance to the work site to ensure no unauthorized personnel pass. Chief DeJong (eying us two looky-loos from the red SUV behind the barricade) assured me that the other Springfield cop was on the job back home preventing bank robberies.
An unidentified worker who arrived in a vehicle marked Summit Utility Services, based in Glasgow, Montana, checks a fiber optic cable access point near the north entrance to the pipeline spill site.
An unidentified worker who arrived in a vehicle marked Summit Utility Services, based in Glasgow, Montana, checks a fiber optic cable access point near the north entrance to the pipeline spill site.
Knodel Contractors of Freeman has been hauling contaminated dirt from the spill site to its property two miles east and seven and a half miles north in Freeman.
Knodel Contractors of Freeman has been hauling contaminated dirt from the spill site to its property two miles east and seven and a half miles north in Freeman. The bad soil is covered in white plastic.

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.

TransCanada Keystone leak site, six miles east of Menno, South Dakota, annotated from PUC project map #41.
TransCanada Keystone leak site, six miles east of Menno, South Dakota, annotated from PUC project map #41.


  1. mike from iowa 2016-04-19 19:47

    Is there a liner of some type under the contaminated dirt piles to prevent soaking into the soil in a heavy rain? What about a berm to prevent the stuff from running across fields and pastures? There must be a lot more to this mess than any one is willing to say.

  2. Roger Cornelius 2016-04-19 19:53

    It strikes me as odd that an American land owner would require permission from a bunch of Canadians and law enforcement to enter his own residence.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-19 20:20

    Mike, I didn’t step onto Knodel’s property to inspect the dump pile up close. But yes, I’d think barriers under and around the pile would be essential. That stuff is toxic.

  4. Paul Seamans 2016-04-19 20:27

    This is really great stuff Cory. Was Chief DeJong able to explain what gives a police chief from Springfield the authority to deny you access to a county road?

    Just out this afternoon; Faith Spotted Eagle has facebook posters out announcing that the Ihanktonwan Oyate (Yankton Sioux) is sponsoring an Earth Day of prayer (Saturday, April 23rd) at the spill site. Starting at 2:00 pm. Would be nice if Galen would let us assemble on his land.

  5. Paul Seamans 2016-04-19 20:39

    The diluent used to thin tarsands bitumen is laced with the highly carcinogenic benzene. There is really no safe level of benzene in drinking water according to some experts, although the federal government allows 5 parts per billion. Is it really a good idea to store this contaminated soil on the southeast edge of Freeman? Couldn’t they have picked a better spot?

  6. Rorschach 2016-04-19 22:05

    Heckenliable can take all the pictures he wants on his own property. Anyone who comes on my property and tells me I can’t take pictures there is looking for a fight, and will find one. The No Tresspassing signs outside of their easement on someone’s land wouldn’t be there if it were my land either. Why do these landowners allow their rights to be trampled?

  7. Jana 2016-04-19 22:15

    So have any PUC members been to the site? How about our photo-op Congressional delegation? Governor Daugaard or son-in-law?

    Certainly Heckenliable’s state legislators have been there trying to help their constituent.

  8. MD 2016-04-19 22:34

    Good piece Cory. Makes you wonder what the compensation will be to Mr. Heckenlaible. I know the compensation was substantial for the landowners affected by the oil train derailment and clean up by Casselton, ND. Will Mr. Heckenlaible be as well compensated for his inconvenience? Land owner/operators tend to take a lot of pride in their land, so I would imagine its pretty tough for him to watch all of this.

  9. Donald 2016-04-20 00:31

    Send in the drones.

  10. FireBreathingDragon 2016-04-20 00:32

    I do not trust trans canada or the South Dakota government. Time for Rachel Maddow to come and ask some questions.

  11. Perry 2016-04-20 06:38

    No pictures or videos allowed near oil leak site? They don’t want anyone getting ideas like documenting and posting slick a detailed YouTube video.

    Something like this 4 minute video that documents a pipeline oil leak of 50,000 gallons into the Yellowstone River, Montana. Year 2015.

  12. Mark Winegar 2016-04-20 06:53

    This is a lot of work for a reportedly “small” leak. What happened to TransCanada’s report that the leak was fixed and the pipeline would be operational? For that matter, whatever happened to property rights?

  13. mike from iowa 2016-04-20 07:08

    Where in holy hell is your governor or pols? Absolute silence spells absolute disaster to me.

  14. mike from iowa 2016-04-20 07:13

    TransCanada must have extended the city limits to the spill site to allow the COP to act as a guard. South Dakota is one of the strangest states ever for trying to figure out who,if anyone,is in charge of anything.

  15. bret clanton 2016-04-20 07:58

    I would assume Mr. DeJong was moonlighting on his own time?

  16. Dana P 2016-04-20 08:21

    Nice work Cory. So many messages here, but one big glaring message…..once TC gets the “permission slip” (eminent domain) to be on your property and install their pipeline (thanks to politicians greasing the skids) —- your property is no longer yours. On paper/county records, the property is showing it belongs to the owner, but truly, it “belongs” to TransCanada.

    At a bare bones minimum, TransCanada should be picking up the tab on the property taxes that these landowners have.

  17. Rob 2016-04-20 08:36

    Outstanding, Cory!

  18. Nick Nemec 2016-04-20 08:55

    Who ordered the Springfield cop to guard the spill site? Who is paying the Springfield cop to guard the spill site? As near as I can tell Springfield is 50 miles from the spill site and in a different county.

  19. Nick Nemec 2016-04-20 09:06

    In South Dakota can police officers moonlight as security guards and somehow still be on duty with the authority of their office? Was the Springfield cop in a marked vehicle? Can I hire a local cop or even one from a town miles away and have them guard my place from people I don’t like? Could I hire a couple cops to run cop cars ahead and behind the annual Nemec Ranch cattle drive? We drive cattle 15 miles and cross a Federal highway, a railroad, and back up traffic on county and township roads for an entire day.

  20. M.K. 2016-04-20 09:15

    But, they want to put in another TransCanada line NorthWest to SouthEast across South Dakota. When are we going to stop being the dumping ground? I remember when years ago, they wanted to dig a hole near Valentine, SD to dump radio-active material. That moved to Nebraska. I remember when they wanted to do test drilling for uranium in Bon Homme County years ago — a bunch of people/concerned land owners and city alike; worked tirelessly to get it stopped in Pierre from the test drilling (drilling opens up the earth and allows contaminants to enter aquafers). and WE as South Dakotans would not have benefited from ANY of those projects — just like this oil transport line. Who benefits?? What is the environmental cost to people?? All it does is destroy the environment; where we live. Land was intended to produce food for people or livestock. Streams and rivers for fish and other wildlife. Once the contaminants are exposed in land or water or air; you can’t take it out.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-20 09:22

    Correction: the next pipeline, Dakota Access, which would run across East River at a slant from North Dakota to Iowa, would be built by Energy Transfer, a Texas-based company.

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-20 09:24

    Jana, I am the only legislative candidate I know of who has sought a photo op at the TransCanada Keystone leak site. ;-)

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-20 09:28

    On Officer DeJong: he declined to say who was paying him for his time. I can only assume that his presence was something like that of off-duty police officers who go work the Sturgis rally. Who pays their wages for that moonlighting?

    The cost of security is just frosting on top of the enormous clean-up cost going into this work. 100 people on site, lots of heavy equipment running and burning up fuel, the additional expense of restoring Heckenlaible’s and neighbor Loren Schultz’s land—all because TransCanada didn’t weld that pipe transition properly.

  24. Nick Nemec 2016-04-20 09:45

    Assuming pipeline pieces 40 foot long there are 132 joints in a mile of pipeline. According to wikipedia Keystone 1 is 2147 miles long, 1379 miles in the USA. That’s almost 106,000 welds in total and over 55,000 in the USA. Anyone want to bet that this is the only leaky weld?

  25. Paul Seamans 2016-04-20 10:04

    Nick, actually the pipes are 80 feet long but I appreciate what you are saying. There are unconfirmed reports that there is another leak right next to this one but TransCanada claims that it is the same leak only that they have found another pocket of contaminated soil. We shall see.

  26. Perry 2016-04-20 10:11

    Come on guys. Everybody working in a tizzy about where to bring dump trucks full of oil contaminated soil from SD. Return to sender….Canada…. That address I know.

  27. mike from iowa 2016-04-20 10:11

    Bret-you can assume all you want. I fully believe doofus Daugaard and others have abdicated the control of your state to a foreign korporation. Let them wash their hands of responsibility in dilbit. It won’t wash off.

  28. Nick Nemec 2016-04-20 10:25

    I’m not a pipeline expert but it would seem that if there is another “pocket” of contaminated soil and its source is the same faulty weld their would be a trail of soil leading from the leaky weld to the pocket, if not I suspect a second leaky seam weld.

  29. FireBreathingDragon 2016-04-20 10:35

    Will anyone from the affected areas be tested for contamination? The people closest to the spill might be subject to a host of deadly gases built up in the air such as N2S. Smells like rotten eggs and in the vacinity of such a smell the brain will cease smelling after a few minutes and a few minutes longer and people could be dead. A long time ago I used to work for a company that cleaned oil related spills. The cover up of not allowing pictures smells a little larger than transcanada might be willing to fess up to. There are scientific contraptions that can smell the air for toxins being relased from contaminated ground spills.

  30. leslie 2016-04-20 10:43

    its just a big corp. squatting in the middle of nowhere(sorry rural SD) seeking some privacy. no diff than a CFAO!

    p.s.- earth day Friday everbody!!

  31. mike from iowa 2016-04-20 11:57

    That would be a logical conclusion,Nick. Howsomever,you are not necessarily dealing with logical people. Maybe it is pure circumstance.

  32. M.K. 2016-04-20 12:29

    I’m happy to be corrected — but, what’s the difference??

    whats the difference (s) with Dakota Access VS Energy Transfer VS TransCanada VS any other outfit that wants to run something underground through our state which is detrimental to our environment??

  33. M.K. 2016-04-20 12:32

    also, responsibility has to come from landowners. Are they all willing to sell out to the conglomerates for a price? I have read though, sometimes the landowner can’t decline. Any truth to this in state law Cory?

  34. mike from iowa 2016-04-20 12:38

    M. K. read up on eminent domain, TransC and others can force you to sell .I believe a few years ago that the Scotus voted 9-0 in favor of E.D.(not erectile dysfunction)

  35. Greg 2016-04-20 12:58

    Mr. Heckenliable should be able to access every square inch of his land with anyone he chooses, weather it be the media or his own lawyer. It looks like TransCanada will hide as much damage from the spill as possible. The land does not belong to the pipeline co.

  36. Paul Seamans 2016-04-20 13:03

    South Dakota’s eminent domain laws are written so that a judge can only award an easement payment based upon the value of the land. If you maybe plan to have a housing development on that land someday that does not enter into what the judge can award you. You cannot be awarded for any other perceived damages to your land, mental anguish, not being able to plant trees on the easement, etc..

  37. Douglas Wiken 2016-04-20 15:30

    Simply put, SD Legislature and executive departments are grossly irresponsible.

  38. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-20 16:22

    Oh, Nick, on your other questions, Officer DeJong was not in a marked vehicle. He did not appear to be in uniform. However, he wore an ID on a lanyard that identified him as Springfield city police.

  39. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-20 16:23

    And Paul is right: the Keystone pipeline pieces were 80 feet long. See? The Keystone pipeline is twice as safe as you thought it was.

  40. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-20 16:29

    I agree, MK: whether TransCanada or Energy Partners, the pipeline poses similar risks to our land, water, and human safety. Both routes cross prime agricultural land. Both cross the Missouri River. Both involve the threat of eminent domain and the loss of property rights Galen Heckenlaible is experiencing right now. (Mike and Paul are right: no landowner had an effective right to say no to Keystone crossing his or her land.)

    Arguably, the Dakota Access pipeline might be less dangerous than Keystone, since Dakota Access will carry more conventional crude oil, while Keystone carries tar sands oil with more carcinogenic diluents.

  41. John Kennedy Claussen 2016-04-20 17:46

    Just think. A year from now, we will either have a President Donald or Hillary and an additional Keystone pipeline to worry about…. Oh, you say Hillary is against such an idea?….. I will believe it when i see it…..

  42. Nick Nemec 2016-04-20 19:46

    Does the digging activity on Mr. Heckenlaible’s property extend beyond the edges of the easement? What kind of compensation is he being offered for the lose of the use of his property? Do the easements allow TransCanada to prevent access to that portion of a piece of property outside the defined easement, or are they just posting “no trespassing” as a form of intimidation?

  43. Paul Seamans 2016-04-20 21:42

    All good questions Nick. I don’t know how that works when TransCanada steps outside that 50 foot permanent easement. Could a landowner say to them that they cannot go outside that 50 feet to get the contaminated soil? My easement on the KXL doesn’t say anything about TransCanada being able to set foot outside the 50 feet. But then the pipeline was never supposed to leak, why would there ever be a need to go after contaminated soil.

  44. M.K. 2016-04-20 23:17

    This is going to be something in the future. thanks for answering. I will learn more about eminent domain.

  45. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-21 06:39

    John KC, I share your skepticism of President Clinton’s willingness to protect us from future pipelines and other corporate encroachments on our rights. Trump, Cruz, and Kasich would be worse on that score; Sanders would be better.

  46. leslie 2016-04-21 07:29

    someone please get a copy of your easement to cory who can post it in redacted form.

  47. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-21 09:15

    The easement would answer many of the questions Nick and others have posed.

  48. Steve Sibson 2016-04-21 10:33

    Nick, property rights began going out the window with the rest of the Bill of Rights with the passage of the 14th Amendment that included the military occupation of several states. Then the so-called progressives decided to replace the competitive free market with liberal corporate capitalism at the turn of the 20th century. Now we get to live with it.

  49. jerry 2016-04-21 11:01

    Mr. Sibson, I am wondering what you are talking about by calling the Koch brothers liberals with their corporate capitalism. As you may know, they are the principals in Transcanada so you have now managed to completely get yourself in the pretzel position. Good work!

    Curious, do the states that have been militarily occupied know it? What are the names of the states?

  50. Paul Seamans 2016-04-21 11:28

    My take on history is a little different than Steve Sibson’s. At the turn of the 20th Century the competitive free market mentioned by him was also known as the time of the Robber Barons. Not something that I would want to go back to.

  51. Paul Seamans 2016-04-21 16:14

    Donald Pay, thank you for the link to the AP story on deep bore drilling in South Dakota. You have been warning about this for some time now. For some reason Gov. Daugaard has decided to fess up,( kinda, sort of fess up)

  52. Steve Sibson 2016-04-21 16:22

    jerry, Martin Sklar was the one who coined “liberal corporate capitalism” during his Doctoral thesis regarding the progressive era. Here is the Civil War history that covers the military presence during the ratification process:

    Paul, the “Robber Barons” were the beneficiaries of the “administered markets” (that replaced the competitive free market) as they are today. This thread demonstrates that point.

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