Keystone pipeline raises concerns after third major spill in five years | Oil spills

The Keystone Pipeline, which runs 2,600 miles from western Canada to the central United States, leaked about 14,000 barrels of oil, or more than half a million gallons, into a creek in Washington County , Kansas, Dec. 7. The incident was the the biggest oil spill on land since at least 2013, the Keystone pipeline third major spill in the past five years, and the largest since it started operating in 2010.

It is also the case that previous estimates previous spills on the pipeline have been found to be much larger than initially estimated.

Four dead mammals and 71 dead fish were recovered from the latest dump site, according to to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is participating in cleanup efforts with the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), state and local agencies, pipeline owner and operator TC Energy, and company contractors. Approximately 5,500 barrels of oil and water and 5,000 cubic meters of oil-contaminated soil were restored during the first cleaning efforts.

Most undamaged parts of the pipeline resumed operations last week as cleanup efforts and an investigation into the cause of the spill continue. Tuesday was reported that TC Energy had submitted its plan to regulators to restart it completely.

“It’s our livelihood here,” said Bill Pannbacker, a farmer whose land was affected by the spill. told CBS News. “Probably an acre, an acre and a half of grass was totally covered in oil. But it’s on a slope so it would flow, and that’s where it flowed into the stream.

The spill was the the biggest onshore oil spill since at least 2013 and the largest spill in the Keystone Pipeline System since it was commissioned in 2010.

A satellite image shows emergency crews working to clean up a crude oil spill along Mill Creek in Washington County, Kansas. Photography: Maxar Technologies/Reuters

“Waterways and lands should not be put at risk so that Canada and big oil companies can get their products to market,” said Jane Kleeb, founder and president of the nonprofit Bold Alliance. of Nebraska, which helps communities fight fossil fuel projects. Kleeb is also chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party. “It’s a huge burden that pipeline companies place on landowners. Not only are they taking their land through eminent domain for the private gain of the pipeline company, but they are also taking a [access] bondage forever.

Kleeb argued that these spills demonstrate how unfair the relationship between pipeline companies and landowners is. She also highlighted how the Keystone pipeline was labeled the “safest pipeline ever built” during the approval campaign for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The latter was a project to expand the Keystone pipeline that was ultimately abandoned: its permits were first revoked by the Obama administration, reinstated by the Trump administration, then canceled by the Biden administration.

“This spill in Kansas is going to take years to clean up. CT Energy is currently claiming it will be a two week cleanup job and all will be well,” Kleeb added. “This topsoil that has now been destroyed on this farmer’s property is gone forever. If you’re in the agriculture industry, you know how valuable topsoil is and how much farmers and ranchers do to protect that topsoil. It’s gone, it’ll never come back, this land will never be the same.

Oil sands crude oil transported through the Keystone pipeline differs from conventional oil. He consists a heavy oil called bitumen which is cut with a lighter gas called diluent to facilitate transport by pipeline.

“Oil spills pose both short-term and long-term risks to ecological communities,” said Dr. Diane Orihel, assistant professor of aquatic ecotoxicology at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. “In the days following a spill, exposure to oil can cause acute toxicity in wildlife through ingestion, inhalation, suffocation, drowning or hypothermia. However, scientists now know that the ecological impacts of oil spills can be much more widespread and persist for decades after the spill.

Dr. Orihel conducted a to study on the impact of bitumen on a freshwater lake. She observed that it sinks below the surface of the water and accumulates on the surface of the sediments within hours or days.

She also found that the dilute bitumen spill had caused a sharp drop in the abundance of insects emerging from the lake. During this time, only a small percentage of the major contaminants of concern in the bitumen – called polycyclic aromatic compounds – have dissolved into the lake’s water column.

“This propensity for bitumen to sink in freshwater ecosystems also makes oil cleanup much more difficult,” Dr Orihel added.

Incidents like the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon have shown that oil spills can have large-scale, long-term effects. “Some wildlife populations can take years to recover from the initial deaths caused by oil spills, but some oil components are also persistent and remain in the ecosystem, continuing to be absorbed and causing chronic effects on the environment. wildlife health,” she says.

Yet other major spills, like the one linked to the Hebei Spirit, have offered a lesson. “They taught us that a quick and thorough cleanup of oil spills can help ecosystems recover from disturbance and limit long-term impacts,” added Dr Orihel.

About 22 oil spills have occurred on the Keystone pipeline in the past 12 years, with two other major incidents. TC Energy only has paid a $300,000 fine for past spills on the Keystone Pipeline, even though the spills caused more than $111 million in property damage.

“It’s a lemon,” said Paul Blackburn, a pipeline lawyer at Bold Alliance. “There have been leaks a remarkable number of times and while there may be some specific type of cause for each leak, the fact that they leak so often suggests that there may be underlying systemic reasons. to what’s wrong.”

A 2010 report of an environmental law center identified a pattern of production and use of substandard steel in new pipelines amid a pipeline construction boom between 2007 and 2009. A manufacturer linked to the Keystone pipeline has been included.

After construction, the Keystone pipeline has received numerous warnings from federal regulators about lack of corrosion protection and deficiencies in corrosion control. The problems took years to resolve. A recent study by the United States Government Accountability Office (GOA) report noted that the Keystone Pipeline’s safety record had deteriorated and identified “construction issues”, leading to major spills on the Keystone Pipeline in 2017 and 2019.

Blackburn argued that the possibility of fines being imposed on pipeline companies is included in the cost of doing business for these multi-billion dollar companies, which often pass the costs on to customers if they are not already covered by insurance. He noted that regulators can force pipeline companies to perform more frequent line inspections, such as imaging tools that can perform ultrasounds on pipelines to identify possible points of failure and fix them before a spill occurs. not happen.

A remediation company deploys a dam on the surface of an oil spill after the Keystone Pipeline leaked into Mill Creek in Washington County, Kansas.
A remediation company deploys a dam on the surface of an oil spill after the Keystone Pipeline leaked into Mill Creek in Washington County, Kansas. Photo: Kyle Bauer/AP

“All pipelines leak and depending on where they leak it can be catastrophic, and it is certainly catastrophic for the people who live there and whose lands are affected,” Blackburn added. “There are much better tools to prevent these types of leaks and PHMSA should require that they be used more often.”

TC Energy says 6,973 barrels of oil have been recovered from the creek as of Dec. 17. “The affected segment of the Keystone pipeline system remains safely isolated as the investigation, recovery, repair and remediation continue to progress,” TC Energy said in a statement. statement. “This segment will not be restarted until it is safe to do so and when we have regulatory approval from PHMSA.”

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