Press "Enter" to skip to content

Second Truck Dumps TransCanada’s Oily Dirt Along Road… This Time Intentionally

The open case file for TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline oil spill now includes a January 11 e-mail update from Brian Walsh of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources with this alarming note:

Brian also visited the truck spill sites and verified clean-up had occurred. Confirmation samples from the truck rollover sight [sic] showed some remaining contamination so additional excavation was being planned. Sample results from the other site were still pending [Brian Walsh, DENR, e-mail update, TransCanada Keystone—Amherst Release Spill ID 2017.204 Open Case, 2018.01.11].

So the half ton of oil-contaminated dirt, plus ten gallons of diesel fuel, that a trucker purportedly fiddling with his electronic logbook spilled on the ground just a couple miles out from the spill site on his way to the dump requires further clean-up.

But wait—truck spill sitesplural?

Yup: turns out the day after that truck dumped its oily load, TransCanada’s clean-up crews found a pile of contaminated spill dirt dumped alongside the road a couple miles southwest of the pipeline breach:

TransCanada, the company that owns the Keystone Pipeline, has contracted with SET Environmental of Illinois to oversee cleanup efforts at the leak site, Walsh said. He said SET has not been able to pin down what trucking company is responsible for dumping the soil in the ditch.

Walsh said SET officials believe the contaminated soil was dumped from a semi returning from taking a load to Clean Harbors Landfill in Sawyer, N.D. The landfill is about 220 miles away from the leak site.

…Walsh said it’s suspected that the semi driver realized there was contaminated soil in his truck and emptied it before getting back to the leak site near Amherst.

“For whatever reason they didn’t want to bring it back into the site and dumped it back in the ditch,” Walsh said [Shannon Marvel, “State: Semi Driver Intentionally Dumped Contaminated Dirt near Oil Leak Site,” Aberdeen American News, 2018.01.13].

SET Environmental was among the companies that cleaned up Enrbidge’s massive oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan. SET Environmental says its mission is “Channeling individual efforts in selfless pursuit of World Class status.” Its social responsibility statement says, “We will find ways to give back to the community.” Some of its trucking subcontractors either didn’t get the mission memo or misread the social responsibility memo—trust us, guys, we don’t want you to give back the oily dirt.

According to Walsh’s January 11 update, as of Thursday noon, TransCanada had removed 1,526 truckloads of dirt from the site. Apparently 1,525.5 loads had been dumped in their intended resting place.


  1. mike from iowa 2018-01-14 11:23

    If trucks can get to North Dakota driving North from the spill site, why do they circle to the SW of the site on return? Are they racking up extra miles fees?

  2. Fischer 2018-01-14 12:45

    I think some one needs to audit all the records to verify that every yard of extracted waste actually made it to the recycle plant. It’s so easy to find places to dump it where it will never be found. With out a through audit how can we be guaranteed that’s hasn’t been happening all along?

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-01-14 18:05

    Mike, I wondered about the route. The shortest route to the Clean Harbor landfill near Sawyer, ND, appears to be Highway 52 and 281 then somehow over to SD 10, and there’s no sensible shortcut or maybe slightly longer but better maintained road that comes in from the southwest. It could be that logistics at the site have the outgoing trucks heading out the short way and returning trucks coming in from the southwest.

  4. Mark Winegar 2018-01-14 19:27

    I wonder wat it took so long for this second incident to be in the news?

  5. Diana 2018-01-14 20:25

    One of the problems you have running dump trucks or trailers in the winter is the load freezing to the inside of the truck or trailer dump box and refusing to unload completely. As dump truckers are often paid by the yard or ton hauled, this trucker may have been shorted pay if he properly brought the frozen contaminated dirt back. Perhaps it came loose on the return trip and he conveniently dumped it at the side of the road to avoid getting shorted on pay?

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-01-15 06:12

    Diana, is it standard practice that if dirt is frozen in, you just keep moving instead of taking the time to get it loose? In the cold weather, can one get that dirt loose?

    It looks like the time from Amherst to the dump in Sawyer is 4.5 hours, so a driver can’t make more than one round-trip in a regular shift, right?

  7. mike from iowa 2018-01-15 08:19

    The trucker’s shorted pay for not having an empty truck would be considerably less than the fine he would pay when he gets identified for illegal dumping of hazardous waste. imho.

  8. grudznick 2018-01-15 11:43

    The dirty oily bossturds
    Mr. Pay and I have always fought against these ecological terrorists and generally bad mannered vandals.

  9. Diana 2018-01-15 22:33

    Cory, conscientious truckers will try to get the stuck load loose and dumped at the proper place. This involves trying to pry the load loose with shovels, backhoes, and whatever is available. You don’t want to leave it in the trailer because it may get frozen in even worse and it reduces the capacity of the trailer. This is especially true if it’s hazmat, Because you can’t just leave hazmat sit in a trailer or whatever.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-01-16 08:49

    Thanks, Diana. And a trucker would notice that five cubic yards of dirt was still in the trailer, right?

  11. mike from iowa 2018-01-16 09:38

    Does oil ever get frozen so hard that it freezes to metal? Dilbit is so sticky it might not need freezing cold to keep dirt from sliding out of trailer, but this stuff is supposed to be crude oil, not dilbit.

    I am so confused.

    I am also curious if anyone figured out, for sure, how dilbit contaminated soil was dumped in a Minnesota landfill that didn’t (supposedly) accept hazardous waste? Something smells to high heaven, unless the report was totally wrong.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-01-16 10:42

    Interesting question, Mike! There’s no set “freezing point” (or, in oil terms, gel point) since oil is a mixture with varying components. Get cold enough (like today, and perhaps like the day the trucker dumped his dirt), and oil has trouble flowing. As we know from daily winter expereince, diesel gels at higher temps than gasoline—hence, the need for additives and to warm the car up. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline has to heat the oil to keep the subzero temps from gelling the oil and plugging the pipeline.

    But oil won’t freeze to “metal”, per se, since it’s an organic substance.

    Plus, we’re probably not talking about dirt that is saturated with oil. We may be talking about dirt with an oil content in the parts per thousand, if not parts per million, probably far less by volume than the water content.

  13. mike from iowa 2018-01-16 11:18

    Thanks for the science lesson, Sir. Most soil has some moisture content and I have seen supposedly dry dirt freeze to metal wagon boxes in the winter. Soil with heavy clay content doesn’t need freezing temps to stick.

    I was thinking that the soil in question had a high sand content because of the location. Someone brought in their own evaluator who checked the pipeline route’s various soil types and found out that spill area was probably the most likely to leech oil into the water because of sandy conditions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.