A short-lived no-fly order over the site of a pipeline spill near Freeman was requested by the pipeline’s owner.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro confirmed Wednesday that TransCanada requested that a Notice to Airmen be issued for the airspace surrounding the site of the spill on April 4.
The alert was pulled shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, after a supervisor’s review of the order.
“They put it in place, but then one of our operations managers analyzed it and determined it was not needed,” Molinaro said.
It is unusual that a private company would make such a request, Molinaro said, but not unheard of.
Generally, a public safety agency requests such an order, but federal law governing the issuance of flight safety warnings does not require that requests come from such a request come from a public official.
In the case of the Keystone I pipeline spill, TransCanada made the request in order to clear the airspace for surveillance by cleanup crews, according to spokesman Mark Cooper.
“When doing this it is in the interests of safety and the responsible thing to do to notify the FAA (NOTAM – or Notice To Airmen) of that activity to ensure the airspace is clear – for the pilot, the work crew and general public’s safety and security,” Cooper said. “It remained until that work was completed.”
TransCanada has been working since Saturday to clean up the spill, which was initially reported to be 4.5 barrels in size. Company employees and contractors are working to identify the source of the leak and to determine its actual size and scope.
Cooper said Tuesday that all signs point to a minor leak, and said Wednesday that the source can’t be confirmed.
The South Dakota DENR will monitor the cleanup, including the disposal of any contaminated soils. The Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration has dispatched an inspector to the site, according to PHMSA spokesman Darius Kirkwood.
“TransCanada closed remote valves and shut down the entire 30-inch pipeline after confirming the release, and is working to confirm the source of leak and the amount of crude released,” Kirkwood said.
Some anti-pipeline activists have expressed frustration over a lack of access to the site.
Jane Kleeb, who works with the group Bold Nebraska, said her organization hired a pilot to surveil the scene on Monday, but that pilot was told not to go up. Kleeb said she’s been disappointed at the lack of public access.
“For us, it’s typical behavior for TransCanada,” said Kleeb, whose group has organized in opposition to the KeystoneXL pipeline. “They behave like they’re the government.”
Dave Hoffman, the Hutchinson County Emergency Manager, said earlier this week that the movement of heavy equipment through the area made restrictions necessary for safety.
Hoffman said Wednesday that there were aircraft flying over the site on Monday before the FAA order was issued – enough of them to create a legitimate concern for company surveyors attempting to document the spill.
“At one time, there were three airplanes circling around,” Hoffman said.
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