A major oil spill in rural Kansas Creek shuts down the Keystone Pipeline

A major oil spill in rural Kansas Creek shuts down the Keystone Pipeline

  • Finance
  • December 9, 2022
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An oil spill in a creek in northeastern Kansas has shut down a major pipeline carrying oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, prompting a brief spike in oil prices on Thursday. It’s the largest for an onshore crude oil pipeline in more than nine years, and by far the largest in the history of the Keystone pipeline, according to federal data.

Canada-based TC Energy said it shut down its Keystone system Wednesday night after a pressure drop in the pipeline. It said oil spilled into a creek in Washington County, Kansas, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Kansas City.

The company on Thursday estimated the size of the spill at about 14,000 barrels or 588,000 gallons and said the affected pipeline segment was “isolated” and the oil was contained at the site with booms or barriers. It was not said how the burial happened.

“People are sometimes unaware of the havoc these things can wreak until the disaster happens,” said Zack Pistora, who campaigns with the Kansas Legislature for the Sierra Club’s state chapter.

Concerns that spills could pollute waterways spurred opposition to TC Energy’s plans to build another crude oil pipeline in the Keystone system, the 1,200-mile Keystone XL, which would have crossed Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. Critics also argued that using crude oil from western Canada’s tar sands would worsen climate change, and President Joe Biden’s cancellation of a US permit for the project prompted the company to pull the plug last year.


The Washington County Road Department is building an emergency dam to contain an oil spill after a Keystone pipeline ruptured in Mill Creek in Washington County, Kansas on Thursday, December 8, 2022. Vacuum trucks, booms and an emergency dam were built at the creek to contain the spill. Kyle Bauer/KCLY/KFRM Radio via AP

In 2019, the Keystone Pipeline in eastern North Dakota leaked an estimated 383,000 gallons (1.4 million liters) of oil.

“Very toxic” tar sands oil

Janet Kleeb, who founded the environmental and landowners’ rights group Bold Nebraska, which campaigned against Keystone XL, said there had been at least 22 leaks along the original Keystone pipeline since the original Keystone pipeline went online in 2010. She said federal studies have shown the type of heavy tar sands oil that the pipeline carries can be particularly difficult to clean up in water because it tends to sink.

“All oil spills are difficult, but tar sands in particular are very toxic and very difficult, so I’m very concerned,” said Kleeb, who is also the leader of the Nebraska Democratic Party.

But the US Environmental Protection Agency said there were no known impacts on drinking water wells or the public, and the oil had not spilled from the creek into major waterways. Randy Hubbard, Washington County’s emergency management coordinator, said no evacuations were ordered because the break took place on rural grassland.

TC Energy said it has established environmental monitoring at the site, including 24-hour air quality monitoring.


A remediation contractor deploys a boom on the surface of an oil slick after a Keystone pipeline ruptured December 8, 2022 in Mill Creek in Washington County, Kansas. Kyle Bauer/KCLY/KFRM Radio via AP

“Our primary focus right now is the health and safety of personnel and on-site personnel, the surrounding community and mitigating environmental risks,” the company said in a statement.

Oil prices rose briefly on Thursday afternoon on news of the oil spill, with the cost of a barrel of oil for short-term contracts rising nearly 5% and exceeding the cost of oil contracts. This typically indicates a concern in the market for immediate supply.

A spokesman for the US Energy Information Administration said the Keystone pipeline carries about 600,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada to Cushing, Oklahoma, where it can be connected to another pipeline to the Gulf Coast. This compares to a total of 3.5 to 4 million barrels of Canadian oil imported into the US every day.

Spilled keystones in the past have resulted in outages that have lasted about two weeks, but this outage could potentially last longer given the body of water involved, analysts at RBC Capital Markets said in a note to investors. Depending on the location of the spill, it’s possible that part of the pipeline will be back online sooner, they said.

“It’s something to keep an eye on,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, which tracks gasoline prices. “It could eventually affect oil supplies to refineries, which could be serious if it lasts longer than a few days.”

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The spill was 5 miles (8 kilometers) northeast of Washington, the county seat of about 1,100 people. Paul Stewart, a local farmer, said part of it was contained with yellow booms and an earth dam on his land. The spill occurred in Mill Creek, which empties into the Little Blue River.

The Little Blue feeds the Big Blue River, which empties into Tuttle Creek Lake just north of Manhattan, home of Kansas State University. The EPA said the oil would not affect Little Blue.

Dan Thalmann, publisher and editor of the weekly publication The Washington County News, said crews dug a rock path to the creek because recent rains made the fields too soft for heavy machinery to move.

“Gosh, the traffic past my house is incredible — truck after truck after truck,” said Stewart, who tore down an electric fence he completed Wednesday, fearing it might be knocked over and dragged into a field.

Chris Pannbacker said the pipeline runs through her family’s farm. She and her husband drove north of their farmhouse and over a bridge over Mill Creek.

“We looked at it from both sides, and it was black on both sides,” said Pannbacker, a reporter for the Marysville Advocate newspaper.

Junior Roop, a sexton at a cemetery near the accident site, said people could smell the oil in the town.

“It was kind of like driving past a refinery,” he said.

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