Regulators order Keystone Pipeline to investigate after 14,000 barrels spill in Kansas

Dec. 9, 2022, 1 p.m. ·

Cleanup crews respond to an oil spill near Washington, Kansas. The Keystone Pipeline spilled an estimated 14,000 gallons Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of TC Energy)

LINCOLN — A leak from the Keystone Pipeline is estimated to have released 14,000 barrels of oil, or about 588,000 gallons, into Mill Creek, three miles east of Washington, Kansas.

A federal agency said it was the largest leak to date on the 12-year-old crude oil pipeline, larger than five previous leaks combined.

Officials with the Canadian firm, TC Energy, which operates the crude-oil pipeline, said Friday afternoon that it had increased the workforce  responding to the leak. The company said that booms placed across the creek had contained the oil and that “multiple vacuum trucks” were being used to recover the crude.

Federal correction action order issued

“Plans for return-to-service continue to be evaluated,” said a company spokesman.

A corrective action order, issued Thursday by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, states that TC Energy must determine the root cause of the oil spill, review 10 years of inspections and create a remedial work plan that assesses the risk of spills at other points along the pipeline.

It may resume operations only after federal regulators authorize it.

The pipeline safety agency said there have been at least five reportable leaks on the Keystone Pipeline in the U.S. since it went into service in 2011. Wednesday’s spill is larger than all its previous ones combined, the agency said.

‘It’s a shame’

The EPA said Friday the oil was contained within three miles of the pipeline burst and no drinking water had been impacted.

Zack Pistora, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club in Kansas, said it was a “shame that this has happened once again on the Keystone Pipeline.”

“It’s a shame because Mill Creek will probably never be the same,” Pistora said.

The pipeline, which transports oil from the tar sands region of Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas, was shut down about 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Pipeline shut down within 7 minutes

That was about seven minutes after the leak was detected, according to the pipeline safety agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The agency, which is investigating, said the leak occurred as TC Energy was in the process of running an in-line inspection tool through the 36-inch pipeline. The leak site is about 20 miles south of a pipeline terminal at Steele City, Nebraska.

TC Energy, in a press release Friday, said that the company is cooperating with federal agencies to discover the cause of the leak. The Calgary-based firm said that at the time of the incident, the pipeline was operating within its design and regulatory requirements.

Part of extension

The leak occurred on the 288-mile-long “Cushing Extension” of the Keystone Pipeline. That segment was completed in 2011 to increase capacity from Steele City to a terminal in Cushing, Oklahoma.

The entire pipeline is 2,687 miles long, extending from Alberta to refineries in Texas and Illinois.

The Keystone traverses eastern Nebraska, north to south, and was built with little public controversy, unlike the subsequently proposed Keystone XL pipeline project. The Keystone XL project was scrapped by TC Energy last year amid controversy over whether it would contribute to climate change.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details about response and reaction to the leak.