Keystone Pipeline Ruptures...Again

This article was originally published here. The author has given permission to us to reproduce it.

The Keystone pipeline ruptured yet again this week, spilling enough crude oil into a northeastern Kansas waterway to become the largest onshore crude oil spill in the US in nine years. The oil spilled into a creek running through Washington County, about 150 miles northwest of Kansas City. The spill has surpassed all previous spills on the Keystone pipeline system combined, according to federal data. The operator of the pipeline, Canada-based TC Energy, said that the pipeline, which runs from Canada to Oklahoma, spilled about 14,000 barrels (588,000 gallons) of crude oil into the surrounding water and soil.

The oil spill raises alarms for people concerned with the health of the environment and human safety about whether TC Energy should keep its federal government permit, which allows the pressure inside parts of the Keystone system to exceed typical maximum permitted levels. A report from the US Government Accountability Office last year said that the Keystone pipeline had spilled 22 times since it began operating in 2010. The total from these 22 events was around 12,000 barrels, according to the report.

TC Energy and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are attempting to contain the oil spill, although no technology that can fully remediate the damage exists.The EPA said that the company built a dam across the creek approximately four miles downstream from the pipeline rupture in order to delay the oil's migration into larger waterways. Randy Hubbard, the county's emergency management director, said that the oil traveled about a quarter of a mile downstream before the dam was constructed.

The company is using machines that work like wet vacuums to remove as much oil as possible from the river. The EPA said oil-removal efforts will continue for a week. Unfortunately, as with all oil spills, vast amount of oil will likely remain in the soil and waterways, leading to animal and human illness and deaths. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has advised that no humans of animals enter the water for the foreseeable future.

The nearly 2,700-mile Keystone pipeline carries heavy, tar-sands oil from Canada across numerous waterways and natural environments to reach refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and Texas. Concerns about the damage that oil spills pose to the world's fresh water supplies garnered enough opposition to a new 1,200-mile Keystone XL pipeline that the company was forced to pull the plug on the project last year after President Biden canceled the permit. This latest spill raises questions about why Keystone, Enbridge or any other companies are being issued permits for oil pipelines at all. It would seem that corporate profits are valued more highly than the health and safety of non-shareholders of all species.

Tar sands oil is more deadly than crude oil because it contains a larger spectrum of toxic chemicals than its slightly-refined crude version. Being heavier in weight, it also sinks in water instead of floating on top, therefore it falls to the riverbeds of any waterways it spills into. This means that, instead of skimming the oil off the surface of the water, remediation would necessitate draining the body of water and removing the oil from the exposed riverbed. Executive Director of the advocacy group Pipeline Safety Trust, explained that cleanup can include washing individual creek bed rocks. Zack Pistora, a Sierra Club lobbyist at the Kansas Statehouse, reported that "This is going to be months, maybe even years before we get the full handle on this disaster and know the extent of the damage and get it all cleaned up."

Oil pipelines have spilled numerous times in recent years, including a Tesoro Corp. pipeline that ruptured and spilled 20,600 barrels in North Dakota in September 2013, and an Enbridge pipeline that spilled over 20,000 barrels into the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek in Michigan in July 2010, resulting in untold damage to the natural environment and the evacuation of hundreds of homes and businesses.

The Keystone pipeline's previous largest spill occurred in 2017, when over 6,500 barrels were spilled near Amherst, South Dakota. The second largest spill, of 4,515 barrels, occurred near Edinburg, North Dakota in 2019. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a branch of the US Department of Transportation that regulates pipeline safety, permitted TC Energy to transport oil at greater pressures through the Keystone pipeline because the company promised to use higher-quality steel to build it.

However, Bill Caram, Executive Director of the advocacy group Pipeline Safety Trust, stated that "When we see multiple failures like this of such large size and a relatively short amount of time after that pressure has increased, I think it's time to question that." A report last year by the US Government Accountability Office to Congress found that Keystone's accident history resembled that of other oil pipelines, but oil spills had become larger in recent years.

Regulator-ordered investigations found that the four worst spills in the US resulted from flaws in the design or manufacturing of the pipe. TC Energy's permit included over fifty special conditions relating to the operation, construction and design of the pipeline, the GAO report stated. These special conditions seem to be allowances for poor quality.

The question remains: How many more thousands of gallons of oil must be spilled using this faulty system which includes not only poorly-constructed metal pipes but also a system that favors corporate profits over the health of all living creatures?

The oil will continue to flow and inevitably spill until non-shareholders put sufficient pressure on those who profit. This pressure can take many forms. To learn more about what you can do to help end the destruction caused by oil pipelines, partner with indigenous leadership via Stop Line 5.

Oil pipelines seem to serve the financial interests of a few at the expense of every other creature's right to clean water and soil, and for that reason we must shut them down.