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

The spill is the largest since the pipeline started operating in 2010

By: - December 9, 2022 12:41 pm

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

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Federal regulators have ordered operators to temporarily shut down part of the Keystone Pipeline in northern Kansas after it spilled 14,000 barrels of crude oil.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a corrective action order, its strictest enforcement, Thursday evening. It orders the pipeline’s operators to conduct an investigation before they can resume operations. 

In a statement Friday, TC Energy, which owns the 2,687-mile Keystone Pipeline, said it had been working closely with regulators, local officials, landowners, tribal nations and the community at-large. 

“Over the last several years, we have taken decisive action to implement measures to strengthen our approach to safety and the integrity of our system and will conduct a full investigation into the root cause of this incident in cooperation with regulators,” the statement says. 

The company said it had deployed additional staff and remediation crews, contained the spill and begun cleaning it up, started planning repairs and deployed air monitoring. 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Twitter the department is “monitoring and investigating” the leak.

The Keystone Pipeline carries crude oil from Canada to Texas. Since it began operations in 2010, it has spilled more than 20 times, often small amounts. At 14,000 barrels — or more than 580,000 gallons — Wednesday’s spill is larger than all its previous ones combined.

The spill occurred close to Washington, Kansas, near the Nebraska border, dumping oil into Mill Creek. Environmental Protection Agency coordinators were dispatched to the scene Thursday along with state and local crews. TC Energy said in a news release Thursday evening that the segment of Mill Creek where the oil spilled had been isolated to prevent it from flowing downstream.

“Our primary focus right now is the health and safety of onsite staff and personnel, the surrounding community, and mitigating risk to the environment,” the company said in a statement, adding that its “efforts will continue until we have fully remediated the site.”

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 corrective action order says TC Energy must determine the root cause of the failure that caused the oil spill Wednesday, review 10 years of inspections and create a remedial work plan that assesses the risk of spills at other points along the pipeline.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.