Official Says Cleanup of Keystone Oil Spill Could Take Weeks

Official Says Cleanup of Keystone Oil Spill Could Take Weeks
Emergency crews work to clean up the Keystone Pipeline spill operated by TC Energy in rural Washington County, Kansas, on Dec. 9, 2022. (Drone Base/Reuters)
Caden Pearson

Local officials in Kansas said Tuesday that the cleanup of the spill from the Keystone Pipeline, which carries crude oil from Canada to multiple U.S. states, will take a few more weeks.

It’s not yet known when the pipeline will resume operations after it was shut down on Dec. 8 after a spill of nearly 14,000 barrels of crude the day before at a segment of the system located in Washington County, Kansas.

The volume of crude oil released makes it one of the most significant crude spills in the United States in almost a decade.

Officials from the county and TC Energy met briefly on Monday, according to Reuters.

“They told us they expected to be here for several more weeks,” said Randy Hubbard, Washington County’s emergency management coordinator. “They didn’t qualify what that is.”

The Keystone Pipeline connects Alberta, Canada, to Illinois and Texas in the United States through a more than 2,600-mile hazardous liquid pipeline system. The fault occurred on what is known as the Cushing Extension, a 36-inch diameter pipeline segment completed in 2011.

The Cushing Extension begins in Steele City, Nebraska, and goes to Cushing, Oklahoma, and is approximately 288 miles long, according to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which ordered TC Energy to take corrective action (pdf).
TC Energy operates the pipeline, which distributes 622,000 barrels of heavy Canadian oil daily from Canada to refineries in the United States.


TC Energy said in an update on Tuesday that the pipeline’s problematic segment has been isolated, and the downstream flow of the spilled oil has been stopped while a team works to contain and recover the oil.

The company said it set up a secondary dam, and vacuum trucks and crews are working around the clock to clean up the spill, with multiple booms downstream of the spill site to stop the oil from migrating further downstream.

Over 300 people are working on-site, along with six booms, 17 vacuum trucks at the creek’s edge sucking the oil out of the creek, and skimmers are being used across the top of the water, according to Kansas state Rep. Lisa Moser, a Republican.

“The skimmers are not working well because of the temperature. Oil vacuumed into the tanker trucks is being placed in storage tanks that are onsite,” Moser said.

TC Energy said the containment area had not been breached.

The cause of the leak has not yet been identified, but sabotage has been ruled out.

Clean-up decisions and official updates are being coordinated via a unified command from the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Materials Administration, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Both the EPA and the Washington County Emergency Management office want to confirm with area residents that drinking water quality has not been compromised. There is also no problem with air quality,” Moser said.

According to TC Energy, workers have retrieved around 2,600 barrels of oil and water from Mill Creek, which does not link to a drinking water supply.

Washington Commissioner Raleigh Ordoyne said TC’s clean-up efforts had exceeded expectations.

“In a time where nobody stands behind their product, or nobody takes accountability for actions or for a fault, TC Energy has come in and taken care of business,” Ordoyne said.

“They’ve got boots on the ground 24/7 and I couldn’t imagine this clean-up going any better.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the impacted segment of the line cannot restart until regulators approve a full restart plan.

U.S. crude futures have jumped more than 6 percent this week, buoyed partly by supply concerns linked to the shutdown.

TC Energy shares have risen 0.8 percent since disclosing the spill.