TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An oil spill in a northeast Kansas creek shut down a major pipeline that carries oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, sending oil prices briefly higher Thursday.
Canada-based TC Energy said it shut down its Keystone system Wednesday night after a pipeline pressure drop. The oil was reported to have spilled into a creek in Washington County, Kansas, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Kansas City.
On Thursday, the company estimated the size of the spill at about 14,000 barrels and said the affected pipeline segment was “isolated” and the oil contained booms or blockages. It is not known how the collapse happened.
“People sometimes don’t realize the devastation these things can cause until it happens,” said Zack Pistora, who lobbies the Kansas Legislature for the state chapter of the Sierra Club.
Concerns that spills could contaminate waterways have prompted opposition to TC Energy’s plans to build another crude oil pipeline, the 1,200-mile (1,900-kilometer) Keystone XL, which would cut through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska in the Keystone system. Critics also argued that tapping crude from Canada’s western oil sands would worsen climate change, and President Joe Biden’s rescinding of a US permit for the project forced the company into limbo last year.
In 2019, the Keystone pipeline leaked about 383,000 gallons. (1.4 million liters) of oil in eastern North Dakota.
Janet Kleeb, who founded Bold Nebraska, an environmental and landowner rights group that campaigned against Keystone XL, said at least 22 leaks have occurred along the original Keystone pipeline since it began service in 2010. tar sands carried by a pipeline can be particularly difficult to clean up oil in water because it tends to sink.
“All oil spills are difficult, but tar sands in particular are very toxic and very difficult, so I’m very concerned,” said Kleeb, who is the chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party.
But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said there are no known impacts to drinking water wells or the public yet, and the oil has not migrated from the creek into larger waterways. Washington County Emergency Management Coordinator Randy Hubbard said no evacuations were ordered because the breach occurred in rural pasture.
TC Energy said it has organized environmental monitoring in the area, including round-the-clock monitoring of air quality.
“Our primary focus at this time is mitigating risk to the health and safety of field workers and employees, bystanders, and the environment,” the company said in a statement.
Oil prices rose briefly on Thursday afternoon on news of the leak, with the value of a barrel of oil for near-term contracts rising nearly 5% and above the value of oil futures contracts. This usually indicates a concern about immediate supply in the market.
A spokesman for the US Energy Information Administration said the Keystone pipeline would move about 600,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to Cushing, Oklahoma, where it could connect to another pipeline to the Gulf Coast. That’s a total of 3.5 to 4 million barrels of Canadian oil imported into the US every day.
Past Keystone spills have caused outages lasting about two weeks, but this outage could be longer because it involves a watershed, analysts at RBC Capital Markets said in a note to investors. Depending on the location of the spill, it is possible to restart part of the pipeline sooner, they said.
“It’s something to keep in mind,” said Patrick De Haan, head of oil analysis at GasBuddy, which tracks gasoline prices. “This could eventually affect oil supply to refineries, which could be serious if it continues for more than a few days.”
The spill was 5 miles (8 kilometers) northeast of Washington, D.C., home to about 1,100 residents. Area farmer Paul Stewart said some of it was contained on his land using yellow booms and a dirt dam. The spill occurred in Mill Creek, which flows into the Little Blue River.
The Little Blue feeds the Big Blue River, which flows into Tuttle Creek Lake in northern Manhattan, home of Kansas State University. The EPA said the oil did not affect Little Blue.
Dan Thalmann, publisher and editor of The Washington County News, a weekly publication, said crews are building a rock trail into the creek because recent rains have made the fields too soft for heavy equipment to drive.
“Gosh, the traffic that goes by my house is incredible — truck after truck,” said Stewart, who removed the electric fence he finished putting up Wednesday, fearing it would fall and be dragged into the field.
Chris Pannbacker said the pipeline runs through his family’s farm. She and her husband walked north of the farmhouse and across the bridge over Mill Creek.
“We looked at it from both sides and both sides were black,” said Pannbacker, a reporter for the Marysville Advocate.
Junior Roop, sexton of a cemetery near the spill site, said people could smell oil in the city.
“It was almost like driving through an oil refinery,” he said.
Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas, and Funk reported from Omaha, Nebraska. AP Business Writer Cathy Bussewitz reported from New York.
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