A small Kansas county became the site of a significant pipeline failure last weekAn estimated 14,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the Gulf – the largest spill in its history. Now, officials are scrambling to clean up the mess made by the system, which stretches more than 2,600 miles from Canada to the US
And this isn’t the first time they’ve had to do this.
According to a report by the US Government Accountability Office, the Keystone pipeline has had about two dozen accidents since it went into service in 2010, according to a similar history to other oil pipelines. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, dozens of “critical” oil pipeline incidents occur each year in the US, costing more than $3 billion and killing six people since 2002. More than 719,000 barrels of crude oil has been lost. In that time was lost, with each barrel containing approximately 42 gallons.
Small-scale oil pipeline ruptures are not uncommon in the US, but the GAO said what makes the Keystone pipeline different is that its incidents have gotten worse.
While most of the 22 accidents on the pipeline over the past 12 years released less than 50 barrels of oil each time, four incidents stand out. In two separate instances in two different states, more than 400 barrels, or more than 16,000 gallons, of oil spilled out of the pipeline – in 2011 in Ludden, North Dakota, and in 2016 in Freeman, South Dakota.
Then in the past five years, the pipeline has had two major accidents, in addition to the most recent one, which pushed the pipeline’s performance below the nationwide average. Before last week, there were two — one in 2017 and another in 2019 — that were large enough to affect people or the environment, according to the Hazardous Materials Administration’s standards.
“Over the past several years, we have taken decisive action to strengthen our approach to safety and the integrity of our system, and will conduct a thorough investigation of the root cause of this incident,” TC Energy said. In a statement to CBS News on Monday. “We take every incident very seriously. No incident is ever acceptable to us.”
Here’s what to know.
November 2017: At least 210,000 gallons of water spilled
The Keystone pipeline was shut down in mid-November 2017 after leaking initial estimates ofof crude oil in Amherst, South Dakota, according to GAO. According to the Associated Press, it was one of the largest onshore oil spills in the country since 2010, and months later, it was determined to be nearly twice as large as originally thought.
A spokesman for TransCanada Corp., the pipeline’s owner, now called TC Energy, said five months after the fact that the pipeline had actually spilled about 407,000 gallons of crude into surrounding farmland, the GAO said last year. 6,592 barrels of oil were released. Despite the cleanup taking months, the pipeline restarted 12 days after the leak started.
According to Gao, the leak was caused by a crack on the exterior of the pipeline, which was possibly caused by a vehicle during installation and “grew to a serious size.” After the incident, the company used technology to find other cracks in the affected section and “excavated several anomalies until September 2018,” Gao said, but found no problems similar to those that caused the accident.
October 2019: 383,000 gallons of water spilled
Even two years later, a small town of less than 200 people became the site of a massive leak nearby. Leakage occurred near the pipelineIn October 2019, forcing the pipeline to stop transporting oil. While state regulators initially expected the leak to affect about 22,500 square feet, they later determined it was about 10 times larger — 209,100 square feet, according to the AP.
According to the GAO, 4,515 barrels of oil were released in the incident, with officials telling the AP that an estimated 383,000 gallons of oil had leaked.
The cause of this particular spill was a pipe that had been manufactured “with an unusual seam,” according to Gao, severe enough to cause a crack. As of 2021, work was ongoing to locate similar cracks in the area.
December 2022: More than half a million projected gallons
The latest major event began last week, when TC Energy officials announced on December 8 that an estimatedWashington County, Kansas, had more leaks in 2021 than all crude oil pipelines combined, according to federal data. With each barrel being 42 gallons, that would amount to more than half a million gallons of crude oil seeping into the surrounding area.
Bill Panabaker, the owner of the land, told CBS News that when the pipeline ruptured, it shot oil “the length of a football field” over an area that included farmland more than 80 years old. Their pasture, where cattle are kept from May to October, quickly became saturated with oil, turning much of it black. He said the pipeline burst about 15 feet north of his fence line.
“This is our livelihood,” he said of the oil-hit land, which has been in his family since the 1930s. They also grow corn, soybeans, and wheat. “…maybe an acre, an acre and a half of grass was completely covered with oil. But it’s on a slope so it would slide down, and that’s when it ran downhill.”
TC Energy officials said that the Keystone system had once again stopped, so workers rushed to stop the leak and eliminate its cause. As of Sunday, more than 250 people were working on the incident and company officials said they were working with tribal nations and landowners to determine what happened. The regional EPA office said they built a dam about 4 miles downstream to prevent the oil from moving further.
“As always, minimizing risks to the health and safety of our onsite employees and personnel, our community neighbors and the environment is our primary focus,” TC Energy said in an online statement. “… we recognize that this is concerning to the community and are committed to continuing our response until we have fully fixed the site. … We have extended the deadline for resuming have not confirmed and will only resume service when it is safe to do so, and with regulatory approval.”
Panbaker, who served as state representative from 2019-2020, told CBS News, “I’m leaving the cleanup and that part of it up to those entities and I’m sure the government will monitor … that they’ll look into the situation.” Will monitor and make sure it’s done right.”