The Keystone pipeline, which runs 2,600 miles from western Canada to the central US, leaked approximately 14,000 barrels of oil, more than half a million gallons, into a stream in Washington County, Kansas, on June 7. from December. The incident was the larger oil spill on land since at least 2013, the Keystone pipeline third big spill in the last five years, and the largest since it began operating in 2010.
It is also the case that previous estimates from previous pipeline spills have turned out to be much larger than initial estimates.
Four dead mammals and 71 dead fish were recovered from the last spill 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 pipeline contractors. the company. Some 5,500 barrels of oil and water and 5,000 cubic yards of oil-contaminated soil have been extracted. recovered in initial cleanup efforts.
Most of the 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.
“That’s our livelihood here,” Bill Pannbacker, a farmer whose land was affected by the spill, told CBS News. “Probably an acre, an acre and a half of pasture was totally covered in oil. But that’s on a slope, so it would run down, and that’s when it went into the creek.”
The spill was the larger oil spill on land since at least 2013 and the largest spill in the Keystone pipeline system since it began operations in 2010.
“Waterways and land must not be put at risk for Canada and Big Oil to get their product to market,” said Jane Kleeb, founder and president of the Nebraska-based nonprofit Bold Alliance, which helps oil companies communities to fight fossil fuel projects. Kleeb is also the Chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party. “It is a tremendous burden that the pipeline companies place on the landowners. Not only do they take their land through eminent domain for the private benefit of the pipeline company, but they also take a [access] bondage forever.”
Kleeb argued that these spills demonstrate how unfair the relationship between pipeline corporations and landowners is. He also pointed out how the Keystone pipeline was labeled the “safest pipeline ever built” during the push for approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The latter was a proposed extension to the Keystone pipeline that was ultimately scrapped: its permits were initially revoked by the Obama administration, reinstated by the Trump administration, and then cancelled by the Biden administration.
“It will take years to clean up this spill in Kansas. TC Energy he currently pretends this will be a two-week cleanup job and everything will be fine,” Kleeb added. “That topsoil that has now been destroyed on that farmer’s property is gone forever. If he’s in the agriculture industry, he knows how valuable topsoil is and how much farmers and ranchers do to protect it. That’s gone, he’ll never come back, that land will never be the same.”
The tar sands crude oil transported by the Keystone pipeline differs from conventional oil. That consists of a heavy oil called bitumen that is cut with a lighter gas called diluent to facilitate transport through pipelines.
“Oil spills pose both short- and long-term risks to ecological communities,” said Dr. Diane Orihel, an assistant professor of aquatic ecotoxicology at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. “In the days after a spill, exposure to oil can cause acute toxicity in wildlife due to ingestion, inhalation, suffocation, drowning, or hypothermia of the oil. However, scientists now know that the ecological impacts of oil spills can be much more far-reaching, persisting for decades after the spill.”
Dr. Orihel performed a to study on the impact of bitumen in a freshwater lake. He observed that it sinks below the surface of the water and accumulates on the surface of the sediment in a matter of hours or days.
He also found that the diluted bitumen spill resulted in a sharp decline in the abundance of insects emerging from the lake. Meanwhile, only a small percentage of the main contaminants in the bitumen, called polycyclic aromatic compounds, dissolved into the lake’s water column.
“This propensity for bitumen to sink into freshwater ecosystems also makes oil cleanup much more challenging,” added Dr. Orihel.
Incidents like Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon have shown that oil spills can have long-term effects on a large scale. “Some wildlife populations can take years to recover from the deaths initially caused by oil spills, but also certain components of oil are persistent and remain in the ecosystem, continuing to be absorbed and causing chronic health effects in wildlife.” , He says.
However, other major spills, such as the one related to the Hebei Spirit, have offered a lesson. “They have taught us that prompt and extensive cleanup of oil spills can help ecosystems recover from disturbance and limit long-term impacts,” added Dr. Orihel.
There have been about 22 oil spills on the Keystone pipeline in the last 12 years, with two other major incidents. TC Energy has only paid $300,000 in fines for previous spills at the Keystone pipeline, even if the spills caused more than $111 million in property damage.
“It’s a lemon,” said Paul Blackburn, an attorney who specializes in pipeline law with the Bold Alliance. “It was leaked a remarkable number of times, and while there may be certain types of causes specific to each leak, the fact that it’s leaking so frequently suggests that there may be some underlying systemic reasons for what’s going wrong.”
2010 report from an environmental law center identified a pattern of low-quality steel production and use in new pipelines amid a boom in pipeline construction between 2007 and 2009. A manufacturer linked to the Keystone pipeline was included.
After construction, the Keystone pipeline He received numerous warnings from federal regulators about lack of corrosion protection and deficiencies in corrosion control. The problems took years to solve. A recent US Government Accountability Office (GOA) report noted that the Keystone pipeline’s safety record has been deteriorating and identified “construction issues” that resulted in large spills on the Keystone pipeline in 2017 and 2019.
Blackburn argued that the possibility of fines being imposed on pipeline corporations is included in the cost of doing business for these multi-billion dollar corporations, who often pass the costs on to customers if they are not already covered by insurance. He noted that regulators can force pipeline corporations to perform more frequent online inspections, such as imaging tools that can ultrasonicate pipelines to identify potential points of failure and remedy them before a spill occurs.
“All the pipes are leaking, and depending on where they leak, it can be catastrophic, and it certainly is catastrophic for the people who live there whose land is 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 claims that 6,973 barrels of oil have been recovered from the creek as of December 17. “The affected segment of the Keystone pipeline system remains safely isolated as investigations, recovery, repair and remediation progress,” TC Energy said in a statement. declaration. “This segment will not restart until it is safe to do so and when we have regulatory approval from PHMSA.”