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Fossil Fuels

Keystone Pipeline — Updates On Its Largest Leak Ever (Video)

Investigators in Kansas are trying to determine what caused the worst leak in the 12-year history of the Keystone Pipeline.

The US and Canada have been collaborating again, except this time it’s been to clean up oil from the largest US crude spill in nearly a decade. Canada’s TC Energy shut the pipeline after the spill of roughly 14,000 barrels was discovered earlier this week. Keystone Pipeline crude tar sands oil spewed into a northern Kansas creek that’s part of a watershed providing drinking water for 800,000 people.

A company statement indicates that the primary focus of current efforts is the health and safety of onsite staff and personnel, the surrounding community, and mitigating risk to the environment. The timetable to restart the Keystone Pipeline following its fissure remains unclear, as its cause is still under investigation.

Information about the Keystone Pipeline Spill

What does the damage from the spill look like? A wide black armband of oil bursts from agricultural land. Farmers raise grain, corn, soybeans, and cattle in the area, located in a county of roughly 5,500 people about two hours from Kansas City. Rolling pastures and hills are now scarred by the climate pollution. The hill where the breach happened was a landmark to locals and used to be a popular destination for hayrides. Now sludge crosses a local creek; this area leads to rivers and reservoirs.

 

How much oil spilled? The latest major incident started last week, when TC Energy officials announced on December 8 that an estimated 14,000 barrels had been spilled in Washington County, Kansas. This amounts to more than all the crude oil pipeline spills in 2021 combined, according to federal data. With each barrel equaling 42 gallons, those totals yield more than half a million gallons of crude oil seeping into the surrounding area.

What does the cleanup entail? The company has been vacuuming oil from Mill Creek into trucks. More than 300 people are on site to contribute to the cleanup. The US Environmental Protection Agency and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) are on the scene.

How long will it take to clean up this spill? TC Energy and county officials met briefly Monday to discuss efforts to contain and clean up the spill but provided no timeline on the cleanup.

Has the spill been contained? TC Energy and the US Environmental Protection Agency say the spill has been contained. The EPA states that the company built an earthen dam across the creek about 4 miles downstream from the pipeline rupture to prevent the oil from moving into larger waterways.

What has been the effect on drinking water wells? The EPA explains that no drinking water wells were affected, and oil removal efforts will continue into next week. No one was evacuated, but the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has warned people not to go into the creek or allow animals to wade in.

How have local citizens reacted to this spill? The failure along a 96-mile segment in parts of Washington County, Kansas; Clay County, Kansas; and Jefferson County, Nebraska, renews concern over pipeline safety after the demise of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline project.

How often has the Keystone Pipeline spilled? This is the third spill of several thousand barrels of crude in the last 5 years.

What kind of testing is done to ensure the safety of the lines? The Petroleum Institute says pipelines go through tests before opening, using pressures that exceed the company’s planned levels and that are designed to account for what they’ll carry and changes in the ground they cover. An arm of the US Department of Transportation oversees pipeline safety, and it permitted TC Energy to have greater pressures on the Keystone system due to the fact that the company used pipe made from what was determined to be better, higher quality steel.

How big is this pipeline system? The system stretches more than 2,600 miles from Canada to the US.

Doesn’t the Keystone Pipeline spill about the same amount as other pipelines? Actually, no — it has now spilled more crude oil in the US than any other pipeline. It has leaked 26,000 barrels of the toxic substance in the US over the past 12 years, according to Bloomberg analysis of preliminary data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

How many barrels per day does the Keystone produce? The line produces 622,000 barrels-per-day and ships heavy Canadian crude from Alberta to US refiners in the Midwest and the Gulf Coast.

Is this production comparable to other crude lines? No, it’s more than others. The Keystone Pipeline received special permits to run at a higher rate than any other crude lines in the US and has been doing so since 2017.

What other consequences might this spill have? The spill raises questions for environmentalists and safety advocates about whether TC Energy should keep a federal government permit that has allowed the pressure inside parts of its Keystone system — including the stretch through Kansas — to exceed the typical maximum permitted levels.

When can the Keystone Pipeline resume production? The affected segment of the line cannot resume operation until regulators approve a restart plan in its entirety.

Is this Pipeline the end of US pipelines as we have known them? No. Around 1,700 miles of oil pipeline capacity have been proposed or are already under construction in the US, more than any other country.

Is this the same conduit as the Keystone XL? While part of the same system, the Keystone 1 pipeline — which carries an estimated 720,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil per day — is a separate conduit from the proposed Keystone XL extension that was defeated by Indigenous, green, and progressive activism and rejected by the Obama and Biden administrations.

How does this spill compare to previous spills? The oil spill this month in Kansas is modest compared to some former and even 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. We must not forget, for example, that over a decade has passed since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Cleanup attempts to return ecosystems to their pre-spill status continue, and many lessons have been learned along the way.

How does the National Congress of American Indians refer to the Keystone Pipeline? The Keystone system carries tar sands oil — what the National Congress of American Indians calls “the world’s dirtiest and most environmentally destructive form of oil.”

 
 
 
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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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