Keystone pipeline raises concerns after third major spill in five years

December 21, 2022

TC Energy restarted a portion of the Keystone Pipeline, but the part of the pipeline where the oil spill occurred was still off line - Copyright AFP Lillian SUWANRUMPHA
TC Energy’s Keystone oil pipeline leaked an estimated 14,000 barrels of oil into a Washington County, Kansas creek on Dec. 7, 2022.
TC Energy claims its crews have recovered a total of 6,973 barrels of oil – nearly half of the 14,000 barrels released into Mill Creek on December 7. TC Energy also says it has restarted parts of the Keystone Pipeline unaffected by the leak in Washington County.
According to The Guardian, this incident was the largest onshore oil spill since at least 2013, the Keystone pipeline’s third major spill in the last five years, and the largest since it began operating in 2010.
Officials are now scrambling to clean up the mess, a mixture of heavy bitumen oil that has been diluted so that it is able to flow through the pipeline.

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“This spill in Kansas is going to take years to clean up. TC Energy currently is pretending that this is going to be a two-week cleanup job and everything’s going to be fine,” said Jane Kleeb, founder, and president of Nebraska non-profit Bold Alliance, which helps communities fight fossil fuel projects.
About 22 oil spills have occurred on the Keystone pipeline in the past 12 years, with two other large incidents. TC Energy has only paid $300,000 in fines for previous spills on the Keystone pipeline, even if the spills caused more than $111 million in property damage.
Reuters points out that a review by U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) this year highlights growing questions by legislators about whether special use permits contribute to oil spills.
As it turns out, the Keystone Pipeline is the only pipeline to have a special permit to pump oil at a higher pressure. T%his has raised questions about the integrity of the pipeline itself.
The 2021 report to Congress by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that TC Energy performed worse than nationwide averages in the previous five years due to major spills in 2017 and 2019. PHMSA allowed Keystone to run at a higher pressure than other pipelines starting in 2017, subject to 51 conditions.
The latest Keystone spill raises doubts about whether PHMSA adequately assesses risk in granting special permits, said Don Deaver, a pipeline consultant.

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