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TransCanada Keystone pipeline leaks 795,000 litres of crude oil in South Dakota

TransCanada's Keystone pipeline facilities are seen in Hardisty, Alta., on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. TransCanada Corp. says its Keystone pipeline has leaked an estimated 795,000 litres of oil in Marshall County, S.D. The company says its crews shut down the pipeline early this morning after detecting a drop in pressure and are assessing the situation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

TransCanada Corp. said its original Keystone pipeline has leaked an estimated 795,000 litres of oil in Marshall County, S.D. just days before Nebraska is set to decide the fate of plans to expand the pipeline network.

The company said its crews shut down the Keystone pipeline system Thursday morning between Hardisty, Alta. to Cushing, Okla, and a line to Patoka, Ill. The line is expected to remain shut while it responds to the spill.

The leak comes as the Nebraska Public Service Commission is set to vote on the Keystone XL sequel on Nov. 20 to clear the last major regulatory hurdle for the $8 billion project. Keystone XL would route the pipeline on a more direct path through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines that feed Texas Gulf Coast refineries.

American environmental groups seized on the spill as evidence that their warnings against Keystone XL would come to pass. Among the groups, 350.org, which helped launch national protests against the project in the U.S.

“This is exactly the kind of disaster we can expect more of if Keystone XL is approved,” said the statement from 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. “No matter what TransCanada says, there’s no such thing as a safe fossil fuel pipeline.”

Among other concerns, opponents of Keystone XL say the pipeline would pass through the Sandhills, an ecologically fragile region in Nebraska of grass-covered sand dunes, and would cross the land of farmers and ranchers who don’t want it.

“Just days before the Nebraska Public Service Commissions decides on whether to approve Keystone XL we get a painful reminder of why no one wants a pipeline over their water supply,” said Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema.

The Sierra Club was also quick to condemn the spill, urging the commission not to vote for the project.

“We’ve always said it’s not a question of whether a pipeline will spill, but when, and today TransCanada is making our case for us,” said campaign director Kelly Martin.

After years of delay, and rejection by Barack Obama, the Keystone XL project was given the go-ahead by President Donald Trump this year, but it’s still mired in economic and legal hurdles. In addition to the regulatory process in Nebraska, it faces dwindling demand for oil that has already prompted TransCanada to cancel its biggest Canadian project, Energy East.

With files from Alexander Panetta in Washington