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TransCanada pipeline draws Fargo protest

Nearly a dozen residents gathered Saturday outside Fargo's federal building to raise awareness about the impacts stemming from the Keystone I pipeline that originates in Canada's Alberta Tar Sands.

Oil reserves there are transported to Illinois and Oklahoma through the pipeline that spans several states, including 218 miles across eastern North Dakota.

TransCanada Corp. began operating the Keystone I pipeline less than a year ago, and the project has already suffered 12 spills - yet the company had pledged a leak should only occur once every seven years, according to the Dakota Resource Council, which organized Saturday's rally.

During the most recent spill in early May , more than 14,000 gallons of crude oil gushed from a pumping station in Brampton, N.D., about 75 miles southwest of Fargo.

Paul and Tammy Matthews operate a farm in Cogswell, about 8 miles north of the pumping station. The pipeline cuts at least a half-mile long through the Matthews' property - but initially, it was planned to lie less than 200 feet from their home, Tammy Matthews said.

The couple had to fight TransCanada's plans to get the pipeline moved elsewhere on their property, they said.

"If that spill had been there, our house would've been covered in oil," Tammy Matthews said. "I wouldn't want to live there."

The Matthews' and others said they worry the North Dakota Public Service Commission hasn't done enough to protect landowners from the impacts of the project. The three-man PSC is the state's regulatory committee and has oversight on projects including oil, utilities and wind energy.

"There's some real problems with it," Democrat Fargo legislator Ed Gruchalla said of the project. "The PSC has been more of a cheerleader than a regulator."

Current PSC members Kevin Cramer, Brian Kalk and Tony Clark are all Republicans.

The Dakota Resource Council, a nonprofit organization aimed at protecting the state's natural resources, alleges that TransCanada hasn't been inspecting the pipeline as the company is required to.

Citing "eyewitness accounts," the council alleges TransCanada has made only fly-over inspections of the project, rather than analyzing the pipeline's infrastructure on the ground.

"I simply think of our farmland and our people - that's who really hurts the most," Fargo resident Sister Mari Stella Korb said. "It is the responsibility of our state agencies to uphold public health and safety. That's why we need them to enact measures that are thorough in protecting us."

Following the May spill in southern North Dakota, the PSC launched a formal investigation into the incident. Commissioners said the inquiry would include a joint effort with federal pipeline safety investigators.

Daum reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.