A year after the spill: Farmer shares story of the Keystone Pipeline cleanup

Published: May. 11, 2017 at 11:24 PM CDT
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The Keystone Pipeline begins in Hardisty, Canada and runs through Middle America, crossing several states including North Dakota, South Dakota, and Texas.

13 months ago, a welding issue led to a leak in the pipeline in South Dakota.

Nearly 17,000 gallons of oil spilled on a family farm between Menno and Freeman.

The entire pipeline was shut down for several days as crews from TransCanada worked to locate the leak.

Once they found it, it took three months to complete the cleanup process, but the landowner says his troubles are far from over.

The fight to remove the spilled oil has wrapped up, but now a small town land owner finds himself in a war of words.

Galen Heckenlaible believes TransCanada did not properly compensate him for the cleanup effort on his land.

Heckenlaible has lived on this piece of land most of his life.

“I have lived out here all my life except I was gone in the service for a while,” he stated.

Seven years ago a big adjustment was made to his property, the Keystone Pipeline was built through his township.

“I really didn't want to sign it, what's on it, but to get along with everybody else, the neighborhood, I wasn't going to be different,” he remembered.

He didn't make the decision without compensation. Heckenlaible was paid $12,000 by TransCanada.

“You look at the amount of money and it's like whoa that's a good deal. And the thing that was stressed, I mean we aren’t never going to be back here. There will never be any problems. Well, look what happened here,” he pointed out.

In 2016 there was a spill.

A crew from TransCanada came to his property.

“You come here that first morning and they had money for me. Well, I thought they were the best people I would know, but that really turned around after the three months they were here,” he said.

The leak sprung from a section of pipe under this road, the cleanup effort affected Heckenlaible's and his neighbor Loren Schultz's land.

“We worked with both of the landowners in question and set up agreements in place with them to ensure we have the, a work area in place for our crews, and equipment to make repairs and cleanup the property,” TransCanada Spokesman Terry Cunha said, “During that time we ensured both of these land owners were compensated for the work area and insured that most importantly, that the land was returned to its original state to allow those two landowners to begin to operate their property as they were before the incident.”

Schultz says TransCanada also paid him for 2016 and 2017 crop production losses that could have been caused by the cleanup.

But Heckenlaible thinks they should pay him more money.

“The thing that really got me was they paid me for parking, there was up to 150 people here for about a month. They needed my driveway,” he stated, “They were all over in my pasture, I mean they come into my driveway, the mail got blocked, I had to go around and get my mail.”

But TransCanada tells a different story.

“He was compensated for the three months of activity to allow for crews to have equipment on hand and in addition to that, the landowner was compensated for the disruption and inconvenience these activities caused him…As far as we're concerned there's not outstanding payments at the moment,” Cunha said.

Heckenlaibel says the allure of a big pay day can sway people to allow pipelines to cross their property and now he is making it his mission to share his story.

“TransCanada is putting the cross on the other side of the Missouri. I had people here already for that too, wanted to know if I would go to Lincoln to the governor, and tell them what this was like out here to have 90 days of this,” he explained.

TransCanada considers the leak in South Dakota small, but Heckenlaible doesn’t see it that way.

And he says if it leaked here...

“It can happen anyplace and it has happened other places,” he said.

TransCanada says the pipeline hasn’t leaked since this spill in South Dakota.

The company spends $1 Billion a year to prevent leaks.

They have a team that works around the clock monitoring the pipeline.

Heckenlaible’s neighbor and others in the township who have worked with TransCanada told KSFY News they have had a good experience working with the company.