TOPEKA, Kan. — The operator of a pipeline that spilled about 14,000 bathtubs' worth of heavy crude oil into a northeastern Kansas creek said Friday that it has permission from U.S. government regulators to reopen the repaired segment where the rupture occurred.
Canada-based TC Energy did not say exactly when it would reopen the section of its Keystone pipeline system from Steele City near the Nebraska-Kansas border to Cushing in northern Oklahoma. The company said it will have crews working through the Christmas holiday and also conducting “rigorous testing and inspections.”
“This will take several days,” the company said in a statement. “We will continue to prioritize the safety of people and the environment.”
The Dec. 7 spill forced the company to shut down the Keystone system and dumped about 14,000 barrels of crude into a creek running through rural pastureland in Washington County, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Kansas City. Each barrel is 42 gallons, the size of a household bathtub.
The company and government officials have said drinking water supplies were not affected, and no one was evacuated. However, Kansas City's KCUR-FM reported this week that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment found chemicals from the spill downstream past two earthen dams constructed to contain the oil, potentially endangering animals that ingest it.
TC Energy reopened most of the 2,700-mile (4,345-kilometer) Keystone system last week. The system carries crude oil extracted from tar sands in western Canada to the Gulf Coast, with a spur also moving crude to south-central Illinois.
The Kansas spill was the largest onshore in nine years and larger than 22 previous spills on the Keystone system combined, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. The company received permission to reopen the pipeline across Kansas and into northern Oklahoma from the Department of Transportation's pipeline safety arm.
Concerns that spills could pollute waterways spurred opposition to plans by TC Energy to build another crude oil pipeline in the same system, the 1,200-mile (1,900-kilometer) Keystone XL, across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. President Joe Biden’s cancelation of a permit for the project led the company to pull the plug last year.
The company has not identified the Kansas spill's cause. Zack Pistora, who lobbies at the Kansas Statehouse for the Sierra Club, said the pipeline segment shouldn't reopen until the cause is known.
“Isn't the next spill just an accident waiting to happen?” he said in an interview Friday.
The company said it has removed the ruptured pipeline section and sent it to an independent lab for analysis. It also said it had recovered almost 7,600 barrels of oil, a little more than half of what was leaked.
Meanwhile, some Democrats in the Republican-controlled Legislature want to reconsider the state's policy of exempting companies from local property taxes for 10 years if they build pipelines through Kansas to spur energy development. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly told The Topeka Capital-Journal in an interview this week that the policy was “a big mistake” and should have been reconsidered “a long time ago.”
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