An oil spill in a creek in north-eastern Kansas this week is the largest for an onshore crude pipeline in more than nine years and by far the biggest in the history of the Keystone pipeline, according to federal data.
Canada-based TC Energy estimated the spill on the Keystone system at about 14,000 barrels and said the affected pipeline segment had been “isolated” and the oil contained. It did not say how the spill occurred.
After a drop in pressure on the pipeline that carries oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf coast, the company said it shut down its Keystone system on Wednesday night.
Oil spilled into a creek in Washington county, Kansas, about 150 miles north-west of Kansas City.
The transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, on Friday tweeted that the government was investigating.
Zack Pistora, a lobbyist in Kansas for environmental campaign group the Sierra Club, noted the latest spill was larger than all of the 22 previous spills combined on the Keystone pipeline, which began operations in 2010.
“This is going to be months, maybe even years before we get the full handle on this disaster and know the extent of the damage and get it all cleaned up,” he said.
In September 2013, a Tesoro Corp pipeline in North Dakota ruptured and spilled 20,600 barrels, according to US Department of Transportation data.
A more expensive spill happened in July 2010, when an Enbridge Inc pipeline in Michigan ruptured and spilled more than 20,000 barrels into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Hundreds of homes and businesses were evacuated and federal regulators later ordered Enbridge to dredge the contaminated sediment from the river.
The Keystone pipeline’s previous largest spill came in 2017, when more than 6,500 barrels were spilled near Amherst, South Dakota, according to a US Government Accountability Office report released last year.
The US Environmental Protection Agency said there were no known effects yet on drinking water wells or the public in connection with this week’s spill.
“Our primary focus right now is the health and safety of onsite staff and personnel, the surrounding community and mitigating risk to the environment,” a TCV Energy company statement said.
Junior Roop, the sexton of a nearby cemetery, said people could smell the oil in town.
“It was about like driving by a refinery,” he said.
Concerns that spills could pollute waterways spurred opposition to plans by TC Energy to build another crude oil pipeline in the Keystone system, the 1,200-mile Keystone XL, which would have cut across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska.
Critics also argued that using crude from western Canada’s oil sands would worsen the climate crisis, and Joe Biden’s cancelation of a US permit for the project led the company to pull the plug last year.
A US Energy Information Administration spokesperson said the Keystone pipeline moves about 600,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to Cushing, Oklahoma, where it can connect to another pipeline to the Gulf coast.