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Keystone oil spill cleanup expected to last weeks -officials


Emergency crews work to clean up the largest U.S. crude oil spill in nearly a decade, following the leak at the Keystone pipeline operated by TC Energy in rural Washington County, Kansas, U.S., December 9, 2022. REUTERS/Drone Base/File Photo

Cleanup of the biggest U.S. oil spill in nearly a decade will take at least weeks more, local officials in Kansas said on Tuesday, citing a recent meeting with Keystone pipeline owner TC Energy Corp (TRP.TO).

There is still no official timeline for a restart of the key Canada-U.S. pipeline, which was closed after the spill of roughly 14,000 barrels of crude was discovered on Wednesday in Washington County in Kansas.

TC and county officials met briefly on Monday.

“They told us they expected to be here for several more weeks,” said Randy Hubbard, Washington County’s emergency management coordinator. “They didn’t qualify what that is.”

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said TC Energy is yet to submit a restart plan. The affected segment of the line cannot resume operation until regulators approve a restart plan in its entirety, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation document.

The 622,000 barrel-per-day Keystone line, which ships heavy Canadian crude from Alberta to U.S. refiners in the Midwest and the Gulf Coast, had received a special permit to run at a higher rate than any other crude line in the United States, and has been doing so since 2017.

U.S. crude futures have jumped more than 6% this week, buoyed in part by supply concerns linked to the shutdown.

TC Energy shares have risen 0.8% since disclosing the spill.

The Canadian company has delayed a restart of the section of the pipeline that extends to Illinois by four days to Dec. 14 after efforts to restart were delayed by bad weather, Bloomberg reported, citing sources. The Keystone pipeline splits in Steele City, Nebraska. One leg serves refineries in the Midwest, while the other extends to the Gulf Coast.

TC Energy said it had not yet identified a cause for the leak and that investigation was ongoing. Sabotage has been ruled out, Kansas State Representative Lisa Moser said in a post online Monday.

More than 300 people from TC, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state agencies and the county are on-site, the EPA said.

Workers have recovered roughly 2,600 barrels of oil and water from Mill Creek, which does not connect to a drinking water source, according to TC.

Washington Commissioner Raleigh Ordoyne said TC’s clean-up efforts have exceeded expectations.

“In a time where nobody stands behind their product, or nobody takes accountability for actions or for a fault, TC Energy has come in and taken care of business,” Ordoyne said.

“They’ve got boots on the ground 24/7 and I couldn’t imagine this cleanup going any better.”

Vacuum trucks continue to suck oil out of Mill Creek but skimmers used to collect surface water are not working well because of cool temperatures, Moser said.

The spill directly affects five landowners, while another nine landowners have staging areas for TC workers on their properties, Moser said, adding that all 14 are receiving compensation.

Jeanette Stamm, 78, who owns pasture land two miles (3.2 km)from the spill site, said she is concerned about whether crews can remove all the oil from Mill Creek and whether crude could seep into the aquifer.

“I hope (the area) will all be put back the way it was. I don’t know if it ever will be.”

TC said it had set multiple booms downstream of the release point to contain the oil from moving and that oil had not breached the containment area.

It rained in Washington County on Tuesday but cleared in the evening, according to the National Weather Service.

Rainfall has not had a negative impact on containment on site, TC said.

“They’re using large equipment out in fields that are muddy, so undoubtedly it will slow things down,” Hubbard said.