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Keystone pipeline timetable for restart unclear; traders worry about supply


A satellite image shows an overview of the crude oil spill along Mill Creek following the leak at the Keystone pipeline operated by TC Energy, in Washington County, Kansas, U.S. December 10, 2022. Satellite image 2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

Traders expressed worry on Monday about how long Canada’s TC Energy Corp’s (TRP.TO) cleanup efforts would take in order to restart its Keystone oil pipeline after more than 14,000 barrels of oil leaked last week, the largest U.S. crude oil spill in nearly a decade.

TC Energy shut the pipeline after the spill was discovered late last Wednesday in Kansas. The company told officials in Washington County, Kansas, on Monday that they have not yet determined the cause and that they started excavating around the pipeline.

TC Energy and the county officials met briefly Monday to discuss efforts to contain and clean up the spill, a company official said. The meeting was “uneventful,” lasting 13 minutes, said Dan Thalmann, owner of the Washington County News.

TC Energy provided no timeline on the cleanup, Thalmann said. The company told the county it was expanding efforts to vacuum oil from Mill Creek into trucks, he said.

Regulators will have to approve the restart of the line, which extends to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The 622,000 barrel-per-day Keystone line ships heavy Canadian crude from Alberta to refiners in the U.S. Midwest and the Gulf Coast. The shutdown is expected to hamper deliveries of Canadian crude both to the U.S. storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, and to the Gulf, where it is processed by refiners or exported.

“For the most part, there is concern in the trading community (the pipeline) is not up yet,” a U.S.-based dealer said.

If the outage lasts for more than 10 days, it could push Cushing, Oklahoma, storage levels to near the operational minimum of 20 million barrels, analysts said.

Concerns over the pipeline outage shrinking supplies at Cushing, also the delivery point for West Texas Intermediate crude futures (WTI) , helped boost the U.S. benchmark up 4% to about $73.90 in morning trade.

Prices for sour crude grades in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico were strengthening on Monday, as the shutdown means more demand for heavier Gulf barrels. Differentials at Magellan at East Houston and WTI Midland crude were weakening, keeping levels at Cushing stronger and exports weaker, one trader said.

TC Energy said on Sunday that it has more than 250 people working on the leak, including third-party environmental specialists. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and pipeline regulator the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) are also on the scene. PHMSA will have to determine when the line is safe for restart.