Federal data: Largest oil spill in Keystone history in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A ruptured pipe this week spewed enough oil into a northeast Kansas creek to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, making it the largest onshore crude oil spill in nine years, surpassing all previous ones. combined pipeline system according to federal data.

The Keystone pipeline spilled into the creek It was the largest in the system’s history, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which ran through rural pastures in Washington County, Kansas, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Kansas City. The operator, Canada-based TC Energy, said the pipeline from Canada to Oklahoma was about 14,000 barrels, or 588,000 gallons.

The spill has raised questions for environmentalists and safety advocates about whether TC Energy maintains a federal government permit that allows pressure inside parts of the Keystone system to exceed the usual maximum allowable levels, including through Kansas. The chairman of the House pipeline safety subcommittee highlighted the leak on Friday as Congress faces potential debate over reauthorizing regulatory programs.

Last year’s report by the US Government Accountability Office There have been 22 previous spills along the Keystone system since it began operations in 2010, most of which were on TC Energy property and less than 20 barrels, he said. The report says that the total volume of these 22 incidents was slightly less than 12,000 barrels.

“I am monitoring this situation closely to learn more about this latest oil spill and to inform ways to prevent future oil spills and protect public safety and the environment,” said Democratic U.S. Representative Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey. he tweeted.

TC Energy and the US Environmental Protection Agency said the spill was contained. The company built an earth dam along the river about 4 miles downstream of the pipeline break to prevent oil from flowing into larger waterways, the EPA said.

Randy Hubbard, the county’s emergency management director, said the oil only traveled about a quarter of a mile and no wildlife deaths were seen.

The company said it conducts round-the-clock air quality testing and other environmental monitoring. He also used multiple trucks, the equivalent of giant wet vacuum cleaners, to scoop up the oil.

Past Keystone spills have caused nearly two weeks of outages, and the company said it is still evaluating when it can reopen the system.

The EPA said no drinking water wells were affected and oil removal efforts will continue next week. No one was evacuated, but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment warned people not to enter the creek or allow animals to cross.

“The pipeline was operating within design and regulatory approval requirements at the time of the incident,” the company said in a statement.

The nearly 2,700-mile (4,345-kilometer) Keystone pipeline carries thick, Canadian tar sands oil from Canada to Cushing, Oklahoma, carrying about 600,000 barrels per day to refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma and Texas. Concerns about pollution from the spill fueled opposition to the new, 1,200-mile (1,900-kilometer) Keystone XL pipeline, and the company pulled the plug last year. After President Joe Biden revoked the authorization for it.

Environmentalists have said that heavier tar sands oil is more toxic than lighter crude oil and may sink instead of float on top of it. Bill Caram, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, said the cleanup can even sometimes involve washing away individual rocks in the creek bed.

Zack Pistora, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club in Kansas, said, “It’s going to be months, maybe years, before we get to the bottom of this disaster and know the extent of the damage and clean everything up.”

Pipelines are often considered safer than transporting oil by railcar or truck, but large spills can cause significant environmental damage. The American Petroleum Institute said Friday that companies have robust monitoring to detect leaks, cracks, corrosion and other problems, not only through control centers but also by workers who walk alongside pipelines.

Still, in September 2013, a Tesoro Corp. pipeline exploded in North Dakota, spilling 20,600 barrels of oil, according to the US Department of Transportation.

A more expensive leak occurred in July 2010 at Enbridge Inc. in Michigan. occurred when a pipeline ruptured, spilling more than 20,000 barrels of oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Hundreds of homes and businesses were evacuated.

The previous largest Keystone pipeline spill occurred in 2017, when more than 6,500 barrels of oil spilled near Amherst, South Dakota, according to a report released by the US Government Accountability Office last year. The second largest, 4,515 barrels, occurred in 2019 near Edinburg, North Dakota.

The Petroleum Institute said the pipelines are tested before they are opened using pressures that exceed the company’s planned levels and are designed to calculate what they will carry and changes in the ground they cover. An arm of the US Department of Transportation oversees pipeline safety and allowed TC Energy to put more pressure on the Keystone system because the company was using better steel pipe.

But Karam said, “When you see multiple failures like this on such a large scale and in such a relatively short period of time after this pressure build-up, I think it’s time to question it.”

In a report to Congress last year, the GAO said Keystone’s accident history is similar to other oil pipelines, but spills have increased in recent years. Investigations commissioned by regulators found that four of the worst spills were caused by design or pipe manufacturing defects during construction.

TC Energy’s permit included more than 50 specific conditions, mostly for its design, construction and operation, the GAO report said. The company said in response to the 2021 report that it had taken “decisive steps” in recent years to improve safety, including the development of new crack detection technology and an independent review of its pipeline integrity program.

The company said Friday it would conduct a full investigation into the cause of the spill.

The dismantling led to a short-term spike in crude oil prices on Thursday. U.S. benchmark oil rose more modestly – about 1% – on Friday morning as fears of a supply cut were overshadowed by larger concerns about an economic slowdown that will dampen demand for oil in the U.S. and other major countries.

The pipeline runs through the family farm of Chris and Bill Pannbacker. Farmer and rancher Bill Pannbacker said the company told him the problems with the pipeline there probably won’t be fixed until after Christmas and New Year’s.

Pannbacker said the hill where the crash happened is a landmark for local residents and used to be a popular spot for hayrides.


Reported from Hollingsworth Mission, Kansas and Foley, Iowa City. David Koenig reported from Dallas.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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