What You Need To Know About The Latest Keystone Pipeline Oil Spill – NPR
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it’s been a week since TC Energy announced that its Keystone pipeline leaked into Mill Creek in Washington County, Kansas. Nearly 600,000 gallons of oil spilled into the waterway and the land around it.
Environmental advocates say this is just the beginning of a cleanup that will likely take years.
Operators were alerted to a problem with the pipeline on December 7. Starting Friday morning, TC Energy says4,125 barrels of oil have been recovered from the creek out of the estimated 14,000 barrels (about 588,000 gallons) reportedly lost in the spill.
Aerial images of the leak Nebraska Public Media Shows the leak has affected a nearby pasture and farmland of residents.
Many initial details, such as the cause of the spill, are still unclear. What is known is the type of oil that was transported through the pipeline: tar sands oil, also called diluted bitumen.
This thick, toxic substance makes cleanup much more difficult, said Jane Kleeb, founder of the Bold Alliance, and Anthony Swift, director of Project Canada with the Natural Resources Defense Council, both environmental advocacy groups.
“When a tar sands disaster like this happens, it’s worse than a traditional oil spill. Because tar sands are much more difficult, expensive and much more toxic to clean up. We know this will take years,” Kleeb told NPR. . She said that she has been monitoring oil spills, particularly oil sands spills, for 14 years.
He also notes that in his experience, initial estimates of the amount of oil actually spilled may be incorrect.
“Usually when this happens, that initial number ends up doubling,” he said.
The full picture of the leak will not be known until the recovery process is complete.
In response to Kleeb’s comments, TC Energy told NPR in a statement: “Our commitment to the community is that our response efforts will continue until we have fully remediated the site. We have the people, experience, training, and the team to mount an effective response. and cleaning, and that’s what we’re doing.
Diluted shoe polish is like “peanut butter”
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TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, says its Keystone pipeline runs from Canada to Oklahoma. (This Keystone pipeline is not to be confused with the canceled Keystone XL pipeline project that was a major flashpoint in the US for years).
Although TC Energy maintains that it has the proper training and equipment to respond effectively to the Mill Creek spill, the effort will be daunting, Swift said.
Bitumen does not flow through a pipeline efficiently, “so it is mixed with diluents to make it ready for pipeline transport as dilute bitumen or ‘dilbit’.” the American Petroleum Institute says.
“It’s a very thick substance that’s almost the consistency of peanut butter,” said NRDC’s Swift.
Most containment efforts don’t really work for bitumen, he says. In situations of other oil spills affecting waterways, one of the first steps is to install booms to prevent the oil from spreading further into the water.
Diluted bitumen “doesn’t float like conventional oil does. And most means of remediation for spills in water bodies depend on most of the oil remaining on top of the water body,” Swift said.
The bitumen eventually sinks to the bottom of rivers and wetlands, making containment and environmental consequences much more difficult and expensive.
On land, this material causes big problems thanks to bitumen’s incredibly strong adhesive properties, Swift said.
“Once these thick tar sands are on something, you basically have to extract everything that’s touched it,” he said. “Bitumen can migrate and tends to leach into soils. The longer it’s left, the more of a problem it can become.”
Experts compare this spill to a 2010 Kalamazoo incident
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Both Kleeb and Swift said the latter. The Keystone leak reminds them of the Kalamazoo River oil spill in 2010.
In July 2010, more than one million gallons of tar sands crude oil was released into Talmadge Creek, a small tributary of the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan. according to the Kalamazoo River Basin Council. This environmental disaster was the result of a burst pipe at Enbridge Energy Partners LLC. The spill resulted in the contamination of a 30-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River.
“From 2010 to 2014, more than 1.2 million gallons of oil were recovered from the river,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Estimates in years since cleanup. suggest it cost more than $1 billion.
Kansas and the people on the field will have to prepare for the long haul, Kleeb said.
“I haven’t seen a tar sands spill of this size in a stream. We don’t know what it will look like and how it will affect biodiversity in that stream. Not to mention grasslands,” Kleeb said. he said.
“In the past, when we’ve seen spills, they impact the soil for years. Not only do they have to dig up all the contaminated soil, there’s a lot of work to be done to make sure this isn’t impacting the root system,” he said. “And now all that precious topsoil, which is critical for agriculture, is now destroyed and will be destroyed forever.”
This is not the first, second or third TC Energy spill
Keystone has been the subject of 22 leaks since 2010, according to a Government Accountability Office report last year. With the Mill Creek case, there are now at least 23.
“Keystone’s accident record has been similar to that of other crude oil pipelines since 2010, but the severity of spills has worsened in recent years,” the GAO said. “Similar to crude oil pipelines across the country, the majority of Keystone’s 22 accidents between 2010 and 2020 released less than 50 barrels of oil and were contained on operator-controlled property, such as a pumping station.”
Prior to construction, TC Energy obtained a special permit from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to operate certain parts of the pipeline at a higher pressure level than is normally permitted under petroleum transportation agency regulations.
Although the reason for the spill is still unknown, both Swift and Kleeb raised concerns about this permit, questioning whether the increased level of stress was potentially a major factor in the latest spill.
“That is unusual, that is not the norm,” he said of the number of spills from this pipeline. “A company with so many spills should never have been given special permission to pump at higher pressure.”
PHMSA told NPR that “the regulations have extensive requirements for reporting pipeline accidents.” federal regulations They require accident reports of incidents that have “a release of 5 gallons or more of hazardous liquid or carbon dioxide, with the exception of maintenance-related releases,” an agency spokesperson said.
Not including the Mill Creek leak, the two largest spills in Keystone’s history occurred in 2017 and 2019. As of December 7, government data shows this spill is the largest in the pipeline’s history. history, reported Associated Press.
In response to the Mill Creek case (as it has with each of Keystone’s previous major spills), PHMSA issued “Corrective Action Orders,” the agency’s most stringent enforcement tool, a spokesperson told NPR.