Keystone Pipeline leaks oil into Kansas creek south of Steele City terminal

Dec. 8, 2022, 10:51 a.m. ·

A closed road near the site of the oil spill in Washington County, Kansas. (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

TC Energy said it shut down its Keystone Pipeline Wednesday night following an oil leak into a Kansas creek in Washington County. The spill happened approximately 20 miles south of Steele City, Nebraska.

On Thursday afternoon, the EPA said two of their crew members are on-site in Washington County, Kansas, where an undetermined amount of oil has spilled into Mill Creek. Local emergency management teams are helping in clean-up efforts, along with a response crew from TC Energy, the pipeline operator. EPA said in an update, “at this time, there are no known impacts to drinking water wells or the public.”

By Friday morning, 14,000 barrels has spilled. That amount is about 600,000 gallons. There are about 660,000 gallons in an Olympic swimming pool.

In a statement released Thursday, TC Energy said alarms detected a pressure drop in the Keystone Pipeline System. The oil company said it identified the affected segment and deployed tools to "control downstream migration of the release."

Dan Thalmann, owner of the Washington County News in Kansas, said he could smell the spill in the town of Washington, which the pipeline passes 2.5 miles to the east.

City officials in the town of Washington, the county seat, wrote on Facebook that they are aware of the spill to the northeast of town and that “there is no threat or imminent danger to city utilities, and the City water supply remains safe and not in jeopardy.”

County emergency officials wrote on Facebook: “Many residents in and around Washington have reported waking to what smells like gas. We are aware of the situation. Residents are not in danger and the situation is being monitored.”

Mill Creek, upstream from the Keystone pipeline oil spill near Washington, Kansas.(Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

The Keystone Pipeline carries oil from Canada to American refineries. CNN reported that oil prices spiked 5% Thursday morning because of the pipeline’s shutdown.

CNN says oil prices hit $75.44 a barrel immediately after the news broke that the pipeline, which transports hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil daily, had temporarily ceased flowing.

The type of oil in the Keystone pipeline is sludgy and often sinks to the bottom of waterways – making it more difficult to clean than conventional crude oil.

One of the last significant Keystone leaks occurred in 2017, when a leak in Marshall County, South Dakota spilled 210,000 gallons of oil.

Previous oil leaks pushed environmental activists and some landowners to oppose a newer, larger Keystone XL oil pipeline to run through eastern Nebraska. Former President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada's request to build the system in 2015. President Joe Biden also rejected permission for TC Energy (formerly Transcanada) to build Keystone XL in 2021.

Jane Kleeb, founder of environmental protection group Bold Nebraska, and leader of a group against the creation of the bigger TC Energy pipeline in 2015, said "It is critical to note our state and counties need better laws on the books for pipelines. Now is the time to get stronger laws on the books to protect our state's assets — the land, the water and the people."

Mill Creek, upstream from the Keystone pipeline oil spill near Washington, Kansas. Mill Creek empties into the Little Blue (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

This story was updated at 8 a.m. Friday.

Kansas News Service's Celia Llopis-Jepsen and Nebraska Public Media's Aaron Bonderson contributed reporting to this story.