Keystone Pipeline leak in north-eastern Kansas, cleanup crews begin scouring oil pipeline spill

Emergency crews were ready to work through the weekend in order to clean up the worst crude oil spillage in the United States for nearly a decade. Workers arrived from all over the country to help this farming community.

According to Reuters witnesses, there was a strong oily odour in the air as tractor-trailers ferried generators and lighting to a muddy location. An official stated that federal investigators were present at the scene to investigate what caused the leakage of 14,000 barrels of oil from Western Canada.

Friday’s statement by TC Energy, a pipeline operator, stated that it was evaluating the possibility of restarting the line. The line transports 622,000 barrels per day to U.S. export hubs and refineries. The company did not give details about the breach nor when restarts could be possible.

According to analysts, the outage could impact oil inventories at Cushing, Oklahoma’s storage hub, and reduce crude supplies to refineries in the Central U.S.A. and Gulf Coast.

Kellen Ashford, spokesperson of the EPA Region 7 (which includes Kansas), said that “We are beginning to get a better understanding of the cleanup efforts that will be required in the longer term.”

Environment specialists worked in freezing temperatures, and crews set up equipment so that operations could continue for several days.

TC Energy plans to resume operations on Saturday for a section of its pipeline that transports oil to Illinois and another that brings oil to Cushing. Bloomberg News reported that sources have provided details. These details have not been verified by Reuters.

This is the third oil spillage of more than a thousand barrels of crude oil on the pipeline since its opening in 2010. The pipeline was shut down for approximately two weeks after a Keystone spillage.

Ashford stated that TC Energy was still present on the site, with approximately 100 workers, leading the cleanup and containment efforts. The EPA provided oversight and monitoring. The leak’s cause is being investigated by TC.

U.S. regulator Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration stated that the company shut down the pipeline within seven minutes of receiving a leak detection alarm. The 36-inch (91 cm) diameter affected segment was Keystone’s Phase II extension to Cushing, which was built in 2011.

Washington County is a rural area with approximately 5,500 inhabitants, located about 200 miles (320km) northwest of Kansas City.

According to Randy Hubbard, Washington County Emergency Management Coordinator, the spillage has not affected local water supplies or caused residents to flee. Workers quickly established a containment zone to stop oil from leaking into a creek.

Hubbard stated that there is no drinking water for human consumption.

He said that livestock producers in the region have been notified and have taken corrective measures to ensure their animals are safe.

The EPA is the federal agency responsible for inland oil spillages. If the EPA holds TC Energy responsible for the spillage, it would have to pay for cleanup and repair costs, as well as possible civil and criminal penalties.

According to Zygmunt Paper, an environmental law professor at Boston College Law School, pipeline operators are usually held responsible for violations by the EPA under the Clean Water Act (CWA), and the related Oil Pollution Act.

These federal laws restrict oil and other pollutants from being discharged into waterways. They also hold pipeline operators accountable for costs related to cleanup, containment and damages to spillages.

The pipeline shutdown could cause Canadian crude to be trapped in Alberta and lower prices at Hardisty’s storage hub. However, price reactions were muted on Friday.

According to a Calgary-based broker, Western Canada Select (WCS), Canada’s benchmark heavy grade, was last traded at a discount $27.70 per bar to the U.S. crude oil futures benchmark. WCS traded at $33.50 below U.S. crude on Thursday before falling to $28.45.

The restart of the line requires approval from PHMSA. The affected area will still have to flow at reduced rates until the pipeline is reopened.

Ryan Saxton, Wood Mackenzie’s head of oil data, said that Keystone could be subject to pressure restrictions by PHMSA. This could have a significant impact on the pipeline’s operations.

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