WASHINGTON, Kansas, Dec 9 (Reuters) – Emergency crews prepared on Friday to work through the weekend to clean up the largest U.S. crude oil spill in nearly a decade, with workers descending into this farming community as far away as Mississippi.
A strong smell of oil wafted through the air, a Reuters witness said, as tractor-trailers hauled generators, lights and groundsheets to a muddy site. Federal investigators were on the scene trying to determine what caused some 14,000 barrels of western Canadian oil to leak, an official said.
TC Energy Pipeline Operator (TRP.TO) said Friday it was evaluating plans to restart the line, which transports 622,000 barrels of oil a day to U.S. refineries and export hubs. He did not provide details about the breach or when a reboot might begin.
The outage could affect oil inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma, storage center and reduce crude supplies to central U.S. and Gulf Coast refining centers, analysts said.
“We’re starting to get a better sense of the cleanup efforts that will need to be undertaken in the longer term,” said Kellen Ashford, spokesperson for EPA Region 7, which includes Kansas.
Environmental specialists worked in near-freezing temperatures and crews set up equipment to allow operations to continue for days.
TC Energy aims to restart a segment of pipeline that sends oil to Illinois on Saturday, and another section that brings oil to Cushing on Dec. 20, Bloomberg News reported, citing sources. Reuters has not verified these details.
This is the third spill of several thousand barrels of crude on the pipeline since it opened in 2010. A previous Keystone spill shut down the pipeline for about two weeks.
TC Energy remained on site with about 100 workers leading cleanup and containment efforts, and the EPA was providing oversight and monitoring, Ashford said. TC is responsible for determining the cause of the leak.
The US regulator Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration said the company shut down the pipeline seven minutes after receiving a leak detection alarm. The affected segment, 36 inches (91 cm) in diameter, was the Keystone Phase 2 extension to Cushing built in 2011.
Washington County, a rural area of about 5,500 people, is about 200 miles northwest of Kansas City.
The spill did not threaten local water supplies or force local residents to evacuate, Washington County Emergency Management Coordinator Randy Hubbard told Reuters. Workers quickly set up a containment area to prevent oil that had spilled into a creek from flowing downstream.
“There’s no potable water for human consumption that would come out of it,” Hubbard said.
Cattle ranchers in the area have been notified and have taken their own corrective actions to protect their animals, he added.
The EPA is the primary federal agency that oversees inland oil spills. If the EPA finds TC Energy liable for the spill, the company would be liable for the cost of cleanup and repair of any environmental damage, as well as possible civil and criminal penalties.
According to Zygmunt Plater, a professor of environmental law at Boston College Law School, pipeline operators are generally held liable for violations committed by the EPA through the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Oil Pollution Act. related, among others.
These federal laws restrict the release of pollutants such as petroleum into waterways and hold pipeline operators responsible for the costs associated with containment, cleanup and damage caused by spills.
An extended pipeline shutdown could also lead to a bottleneck of Canadian crude in Alberta and lower prices at the Hardisty storage facility, although the price reaction on Friday was muted.
Western Canada Select (WCS), the benchmark Canadian heavy grade, for December delivery last traded at a discount of $27.70 per barrel to the benchmark oil futures U.S. crude, according to a Calgary-based broker. On Thursday, WCS December traded as low as $33.50 below US crude, before settling around $28.45 off.
PHMSA must approve the restart of the line. Even once the pipeline resumes operation, the affected area will have to operate at reduced rates pending approval from PHMSA.
“The real impact could come if Keystone faces pressure restrictions from PHMSA, even after the pipeline is cleared to resume operations,” said Ryan Saxton, oil data manager at Wood Mackenzie.
Reporting by Erwin Seba in Washington, Kansas; Additional reporting by Arathy Somasekhar, Rod Nickel, Stephanie Kelly and Clark Mindock; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Daniel Wallis
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