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TC Energy Oil Spill
Vacuum trucks at the site of an oil spill in Kansas. Image credit: TC Energy

Fossil Fuels

Keystone Pipeline Dumps 14,000 Barrels Of Crude Oil Into Kansas Stream

The Keystone pipeline has been shut down after a leak was discovered in northeast Kansas last week. 14,000 barrels of oil were released.

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Approximately 14,000 barrels of crude oil escaped from the Keystone pipeline in northeast Kansas not far from the Nebraska border last week. According to federal data, it is by far the largest amount of oil spilled from any pipeline in the past 9 years and the largest involving the Keystone pipeline ever. Notice of the spill first appeared on the TC Energy website on December 8.

5:35am CT – December 8, 2022

We have shut down the Keystone Pipeline System and mobilized people and equipment in response to a confirmed release of oil into a creek in Washington County, Kan., approximately 20 miles (32 kilometres) south of Steele City, Neb.

Pursuant to our incident protocols, an emergency shutdown and response was initiated at approximately 8 p.m. CT, on Dec. 7, 2022, after alarms and a detected pressure drop in the system. The affected segment has been isolated, and booms deployed to control downstream migration of the release. The system remains shutdown as our crews actively respond and work to contain and recover the oil.

We are proceeding to make appropriate notifications, including to our customers and regulators and will work cooperatively with third parties to effectively respond to this incident.

Our primary focus right now is the health and safety of onsite staff and personnel, the surrounding community, and mitigating risk to the environment through the deployment of booms downstream as we work to contain and prevent further migration of the release.

Here is the latest update from the company on the Keystone Pipeline oil spill.

Update: 10:00am CT – December 11, 2022

TC Energy continues to progress our response efforts in Washington County, Kansas. We have entered Unified Command with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and continue to work in collaboration with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Association (PHMSA) and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE).

We remain focused on the following response and recovery activities, including:

    • A dedicated workforce exceeding 250 personnel, including third-party environmental specialists.
    • The product remains contained and multiple vacuum trucks, booms, and additional resources are onsite as we continue the recovery process.
    • Repair planning is also underway, as are shoreline assessments.
    • Continuous air quality monitoring has been deployed and, at this time, there is no indication of adverse health or public concerns.

Additionally, crews are beginning preparations for forecasted rain beginning Monday. We continue to work closely with landowners, the community, and local, state and federal regulators. Additionally, we are in discussion with the Tribal Nations and will welcome a Tribal representative onsite to monitor the progress.

As always, the health and safety of our onsite staff and personnel, our community neighbors, and mitigating risk to the environment remains our primary focus. We are working with local and state environmental agencies to develop incident-specific Wildlife Management Plans, including specialists to care for impacted wildlife.

We appreciate the patience and collaboration of the surrounding community and partner agencies for their support in responding to this incident. We recognize this is concerning to the community and commit that we will continue our response until we have fully remediated the site.

Our teams continue to actively investigate the cause of the incident. We have not confirmed a timeline for re-start and will only resume service when it is safe to do so, and with the approval of the regulator.

TC Energy says that after a series of alarms and a pressure drop in the pipeline, it shut down its Keystone system on Wednesday night. It adds the affected pipeline segment had been “isolated” and the oil contained. It did not say how the spill occurred, according to The Guardian.

Zack Pistora, a lobbyist in Kansas for the Sierra Club, noted the latest spill was larger than all of the 22 previous spills combined on the Keystone pipeline, which began operations in 2010. “This is going to be months, maybe even years before we get the full handle on this disaster and know the extent of the damage and get it all cleaned up,” he said.

The Keystone pipeline’s previous largest spill came in 2017, when more than 6,500 barrels were spilled near Amherst, South Dakota, according to a US Government Accountability Office report released last year. The Environmental Protection Agency says there are no known effects yet on drinking water wells or the public in connection with this week’s spill.

Who Could Have Predicted This?

Readers may remember when protesters opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline were imprisoned, charged with multiple felonies, beaten, and set upon by dogs, all because they wanted to protect the environment from the damage that would be done when — not if — the pipeline sprang a leak.

In fact, according to The Guardian, a Tesoro Corporation pipeline in North Dakota ruptured in 2013 and spilled 20,600 barrels of oil, according to US Department of Transportation data. A more expensive spill happened in July 2010, when an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan ruptured and spilled more than 20,000 barrels into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

As a result, hundreds of homes and businesses were evacuated and federal regulators later ordered Enbridge to dredge the contaminated sediment from the river. The Keystone pipeline’s largest previous spill came in 2017 when more than 6,500 barrels were spilled near Amherst, South Dakota, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last year.

Fossil fuel companies get indignant when anyone suggests transporting their products might harm the environment. BP was incensed when critics suggested its offshore drilling rigs were a hazard to the Gulf of Mexico. Exxon Mobil was enraged when people had the nerve to suggest transporting oil from Alaska across Prince William Sound in super tankers was inherently dangerous. No one wanted to listen when people suggested trains filled with petroleum products were a ticking time bomb, especially when they went right through the middle of towns.

The oil spill this month in Kansas is modest compared to some of those catastrophic events, but it does make plain that pipelines are inherently dangerous and require the most rigorous protections for people and the environment. Waiting for the pressure to fall in a pipeline is not sufficient.

That is a “Let’s lock the barn door after the horses escape” approach that minimizes the destruction waiting to happen when a pipeline ruptures and dumps its contents into the environment. America deserves better from these multi-billion dollar corporations who use public lands to make obscene profits.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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