Oil Spill in Kansas Prompts Shutdown of Keystone Pipeline System

Source: By Derrick Bryson Taylor, New York Times • Posted: Monday, December 12, 2022

An estimated 14,000 barrels of oil spilled into a creek in Washington County, Kan., officials said. The Environmental Protection Agency said there was no threat to drinking water or to the public.

A yellow boom straddling a creek with an oil sheen on the surface.
Workers deployed a boom on the surface of Mill Creek, in Washington County, Kan., on Thursday to contain oil that leaked from the Keystone pipeline system.Kyle Bauer/KFRM Radio, via Associated Press

The Keystone pipeline system was shut down Wednesday night after its operator, TC Energy, said it had detected an oil spill in northern Kansas. Federal environmental officials said the public was not at risk.

An estimated 14,000 barrels of oil spilled into a creek in Washington County, Kan., south of the Nebraska border, TC Energy said in a statement on Thursday. Washington County has a population of about 5,500, according to government data.

The Washington County Emergency Management Office said on Facebook on Thursday that residents in and around the county had reported waking up to the smell of gas. “Residents are not in danger and the situation is being monitored,” the office said.

TC Energy said that the “affected segment” of the pipeline “has been isolated and we have contained downstream migration of the release.” The company said that crews were responding to the spill and were working to contain and recover the oil.

The company, which is based in Canada, said that its primary focus was “the health and safety of onsite staff and personnel, the surrounding community and mitigating risk to the environment.”

It’s unclear what caused the spill, when it might be fully cleaned up and when pipeline service was expected to resume. TC Energy responded to a request for comment Friday morning by referring to its earlier statement.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement on Thursday that it had dispatched two coordinators to oversee TC Energy’s response to the spill and that there were “no known impacts to drinking water wells or the public.”

“Surface water of Mill Creek has been impacted,” the agency said.

TC Energy’s profile was raised in recent years during an intense battle to win approval for another pipeline, Keystone XL.

That project, which would have moved oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, was opposed by environmentalists who saw the roughly 1,200-mile pipeline as a contributor to climate change and a symbol of the country’s unwillingness to move away from an oil-based economy. President Biden rescinded the construction permit for the pipeline on his first day in office. Months later, TC Energy announced it had terminated the project.

In 2019, about 383,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the Keystone system in North Dakota. That spill covered an estimated half-acre of wetland and was one of the larger spills in the state. Two years earlier, a spill coated a stretch of grassland in South Dakota with more than 407,000 gallons of Canadian crude oil. The pipeline also had notable leaks in 2016 and 2011.

The Keystone pipeline system began operation in 2010 and carries crude oil from Alberta, Canada, south to Texas. The system contains 2,687 miles of pipeline.