Keystone Pipeline Leaks 14,000 Barrels of Oil in Kansas

This is the largest onshore crude pipeline spill in nine years and the biggest in the system’s history

oil spill into a creek
A rupture in the Keystone pipeline system led to an oil spill into Mill Creek near Washington, Kansas. U.S. EPA

A rupture in the Keystone pipeline has led to a 588,000-gallon (14,000-barrel) spill in a Kansas creek. It’s the largest spill from an onshore crude pipeline in nine years and by far the biggest in the Keystone system’s history, report John Hanna, Ryan J. Foley and Heather Hollingsworth for the Associated Press (AP).

Canada-based TC Energy, the pipeline’s operator, shut the system down last Wednesday night following a pressure drop and alarm. 

The oil spread about a quarter of a mile, Randy Hubbard, emergency management director for Washington County, Kansas, where the leak is located, tells the AP.

TC Energy says the oil spill has been “contained” with the help of 250 people, and “there is no indication of adverse health or public concerns,” per a statement. Officials and environmental specialists worked to mitigate the damage using floating containment booms and vacuum trucks. An earthen underflow dam constructed about four miles upstream from the leak location allows creek water to pass through a pipe, while preventing the oil from traveling farther. 

“We are working with local and state environmental agencies to develop incident-specific Wildlife Management Plans, including specialists to care for impacted wildlife,” the company says in the statement. “Our teams continue to actively investigate the cause of the incident. We have not confirmed a timeline for re-start and will only resume service when it is safe to do so, and with the approval of the regulator.”

Zack Pistora, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club at the Kansas Statehouse, tells the AP that it might 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.” 

The Keystone pipeline system transports about 600,000 barrels of oil per day along its 2,687-mile stretch, beginning in Alberta, Canada, and moving south to Cushing, Oklahoma. There, it connects with the Gulf Coast Pipeline that ends in Texas. Part of the line branches off in Steele City, Nebraska, and terminates in Illinois.

Since the pipeline was installed in 2010, 22 spills have leaked a combined total of about 12,000 barrels of crude oil, per a 2021 U.S. Government Accountability Office report. Seventeen of these ruptures were contained on company property, though all were smaller leaks. In 2017, defective pipeline materials and poor construction caused a 6,592-barrel spill in South Dakota, wrote Ben Lefebvre for Politico in 2021. Two years later, manufacturing defects in the pipes led to a 4,515-barrel leak into wetlands in North Dakota.  

“It is troubling to see so many failures and so much oil spilled from any pipeline, but it is especially troubling from such a relatively new pipeline,” Bill Caram, executive director of the nonprofit Pipeline Safety Trust, says in a statement, per Reuters’ Brijesh Patel, Rod Nickel and Nia Williams. 

TC Energy has a special permit to operate the pipeline at higher pressures than are normally allowed, per the publication, but environmentalists and Indigenous groups have raised concerns about oil spills from TC Energy-managed pipes. Previously, the company had plans to build the 1,200-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would have taken a more direct route from Canada to Nebraska, carrying 830,000 barrels of crude oil each day. After facing opposition and lawsuits, the pipeline was delayed, and in 2021, President Joe Biden revoked a key permit the company would have needed for its construction.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.