Residents of northeastern Kansas were holding their noses Sunday as crews worked to clean up the county’s largest onshore crude pipeline spill in nine years.
A ruptured connection in the Keystone pipeline Wednesday leaked 14,000 barrels of oil into a creek in rural Washington County, 175 miles northwest of Kansas City, operator TC Energy said.
Last week’s spill — which was large enough to almost fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool — was bigger than all of the previous spills of the 2,700 mile line combined, according to federal data.
There had been 22 previous Keystone pipeline spills since the system’s inception in 2010 that leaked less than a total of 12,000 barrels, according to a US Government Accountability Office report to Congress last year. Most of them occurred on TC Energy property.
A putrid smell of oil filled the air outside a farming community as cleanup crews worked in near freezing temperatures to mop the runoff as investigators looked to determine the cause of the breach.
The company and the US Environmental Protection Agency said the spill was contained after a dam was built four miles downstream from the rupture to keep oil from spreading to other waterways.
A TC Energy spokesman said no drinking wells were affected the company was checking air-quality in the area. No animals were killed, according to county officials, but residents and their pets were warned against going into the creek by the state’s health and environment agency.
“We could smell it first thing in the morning; it was bad,” said Washington resident Dana Cecrle, 56, who took the disruption in stride. “Stuff breaks. Pipelines break, oil trains derail.”
The accident prompted lawmakers, environmentalists and safety advocates to question if TC Energy should hold a permit that allows pressure on the Keystone pipeline to exceed maximum levels, as Congress faces a debate on reauthorizing regulatory programs.
“I’m watching this situation closely to learn more about this latest oil leak and inform ways to prevent future releases and protect public safety and the environment,” Rep. Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey, the Democratic co-chair of the subcommittee on pipeline safety tweeted Friday.
“At the time of the incident, the pipeline was operating within its design and regulatory approval requirements,” the company said in a statement.
The Keystone pipeline carries about 600,000 barrels a day from Alberta, Canada to a distribution center in Crushing, Oklahoma.
Concern over spills and other environmental factors led officials to oppose a new Keystone XL pipeline, which was shelved last year after President Biden revoked is permit.
Cleanup of the current record spill was expected to be tedious and could even involve scrubbing individual rocks in the creek, as the heavier tar sands oil that leaked is more toxic than lighter crude and can sink in water, according to Bill Caram, executive director of the advocacy Pipeline Safety Trust.
“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,” said Zack Pistora, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club at the Kansas Statehouse.
TC Energy’s permit includes dozens of special conditions to change pressure based on ground and shipment conditions, but regulators said the pipeline’s previous worst spills were caused by pipe design or manufacturing flaws.
“When we see multiple failures like this of such large size and a relatively short amount of time after that pressure has increased, I think it’s time to question that,” Caram said.
The energy company told farmer Bill Pannbacker that the spill would probably not be resolved until after the New Year.
Pannbacker said the hill where the leak occurred was a local landmark and a popular destination for hay rides.
“Hell, that’s life,” said 70-year-old Carol Hollingsworth of nearby Hollenberg, Kansas. “We got to have the oil.”
With Post wires