In Kansas, teams contain the largest Keystone pipeline breach to date

The operator of the Keystone Pipeline System, which transports a form of crude oil from Canada to several states for refining, said over the weekend that its biggest breach to date was contained for now.

The pipeline failure 3 miles east of Washington, Kansas on Wednesday spilled about 14,000 barrels of crude, or 588,000 gallons of a form of crude known as tar sands oil , in Mill Creek, a natural waterway, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The administration has ordered the affected section of the pipeline, about 160 miles north of Wichita, closed until corrective action can be taken.

TC Energy, the Canadian parent company of daily pipeline operator TC Oil, said in a statement on Saturday that the spill was no longer moving downstream. It mobilized 250 crews to handle the cleanup and deployed booms and vacuum trucks to stop the oil, the company said.

The Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement on Saturday: “The release was contained and no drinking water was impacted.”

Failure along a 96 mile segment in parts of Washington County, Kansas; Clay County, Kansas; and Jefferson County, Nebraska, is renewing its concern over pipeline safety after the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project disappeared.

The proposed pipeline, which would have carried Canadian oil sands to Nebraska, polarized political leaders, who mostly lined up to kill him or make way. It was thwarted by the Obama administration, renewed by President Donald Trump, and rescinded by President Joe Biden. TC Energy withdrew its plans last year.

Over the past five years, there have been at least three major spills along the original Keystone pipeline system, with Wednesday being the largest, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Pipeline regulators also noted accidents and breaches in the Keystone system in 2011, 2016 and 2020. The affected section is part of the 288-mile Cushing Extension, completed in 2011, which carries crude from Steele City, Nebraska , in Cushing, Oklahoma, regulators said.

Environmentalists have argued that the incidents come with such a pipeline and are not worth the convenience of more direct transportation for fossil fuels in a world that accepts global warming caused largely by its burning.

The Sierra Club said it was the 22nd time the pipeline it calls Keystone 1 has been the site of a spill, breach or accident.

“There is no safe pipeline for the tar sands and this is another disaster that continues to prove that we must put our climate and our communities first,” Catherine Collentine of the Sierra Club said in a statement.

Many environmental organizations want Biden to ban any new oil and gas infrastructure on public lands.

Alan K. Mayberry, associate administrator for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said in a letter to a TC Oil executive last week that the company had been ordered to keep the affected segment offline.

Mayberry wants TC Oil to determine the root cause of the breach and name decision makers who may have contributed to the spill, according to the letter dated Thursday. He also said the company should repair or replace any damaged or broken segments and determine if other parts of the pipeline have similar conditions or structural issues.

Before any restart, TC must reduce pressure to 80% of what it was just before the breach, federal pipeline regulators said.

The oil spilled as the company conducted an analysis of the nearby conveyance using an “online inspection tool,” Mayberry wrote.

“The ILI tool is currently downstream of the fault location,” he wrote. “The respondent had bypassed the Hope, Kansas pumping station, the next station downstream, in anticipation of the tool passing when the failure occurred.”

Any possible causal relationship was unclear. The letter also suggests that the breakdown involved “faulty pipe seals”.

TC Energy said in a statement Friday that the pipeline was operating within the rules. “At the time of the incident, the pipeline was operating in accordance with design and regulatory approval requirements,” the company said.

During President George W. Bush’s tenure, TC Oil obtained special permission to use above-standard pressure along the Cushing Extension to move Canada’s thick form of crude.

Bill Caram, executive director of the nonprofit Pipeline Safety Trust, said The Associated Press that the number of Keystone spills, breaches and accidents since then should prompt reconsideration of allowing higher pressure.

“I think it’s time to question that,” he said.

Michelle Acevedo contributed.

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