By Gordon Hopkins
Cleanup of the record oil spill from the Keystone Pipeline System continues. According to a recent statement from TC Energy, the company formerly known as TransCanada Corporation, an estimated 7,233 barrels of oil have been recovered from the creek. That is 13,877 barrels of oil and water.
Monday saw snowfall in the area. TC Energy warned, “Our recovery rates have the potential to slow by the upcoming cold weather in the area.”
The company shut down the pipeline system the evening of Wednesday, December 7, 2022, in response to a confirmed release an estimated 14,000 barrels, or 588,000 gallons, of crude oil into Mill Creek near Washington, Kansas. The spill is approximately 20 miles south of Steele City, where a key junction for the pipeline is located.
TC Energy has restarted a portion of the pipeline. On Wednesday, December 14, a week after the shutdown, the company restarted the pipeline section that extends from Hardisty, Alberta to Wood River/Patoka, Illinois. According to a statement from TC Energy, “This restart facilitates safe transportation of the energy that customers and North Americans rely on.”
The statement also indicates the portion of the pipeline where the leak occurred remains sealed, “The affected segment of the Keystone Pipeline System remains safely isolated as investigation, recovery, repair and remediation continues to advance. This segment will not be restarted until it is safe to do so and when we have regulatory approval from PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration).”
A complication of the cleanup is the nature of the spill which consists of “diluted bitumen.” This has been confirmed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
According to the American Petroleum Institute, “One of the types of crude oil derived from the Canadian oil sands is bitumen, a heavy, sour oil. Bitumen would not flow through a pipeline efficiently, so it is mixed with diluents to be readied for pipeline transportation as diluted bitumen, or ‘dilbit.’ Diluents are usually natural gas condensate, naphtha or a mix of other light hydrocarbons.”
Bitumen doesn’t float on water, the way crude oil does, making recovery of the oil more difficult.
The EPA reported last week, “Response statistics also indicate that four deceased mammals have been recovered, along with 71 fish. Wildlife assessment crews are continuing their assessment observations of impacted wildlife. All deceased and impacted wildlife are being assessed by biologists with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP).”
The site of the spill remains off-limits to the public. A number of early news reports featured photos and video taken from a drone flying over the site. Since that time, airspace over the site has been restricted, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The restriction was originally scheduled to end Monday, December 19, but was later extended until Wednesday, December 21.
FJN reached out to TC Energy and asked the reason for the restriction. A spoke person responded, “Clearing the airspace is critical for the safety and security of the pilots conducting ongoing monitoring as well as the working crew on the ground. Crews are working around the clock on the incident and need to be distraction-free.”
When asked if the restriction is likely to be extended again, TC Energy said, “We will evaluate as we continue our response. Our focus continues to be the health and safety of on-site staff and personnel, the surrounding community, and mitigating risk to the environment.”
As of press time, no cause for the spill has been cited. The investigation is ongoing.
By Gordon Hopkins