Kansas City Star. December 14, 2022.
Editorial: Kansas needs restitution for Keystone pipeline disaster — and it can never happen again
The recent Keystone pipeline leak near Washington, Kansas, is deeply disturbing.
Pictures of the calamity have circulated across the nation, showing nearby farmland slathered in a sludgy oil, with a smaller trail of inky petroleum running downhill into nearby Mill Creek. Crews have spent the week trying to contain the damage.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 300 people were on the scene of the disaster, reinforcing dams to prevent more oil from oozing into the water, or the water draining away. The Environmental Protection Agency said workers had recovered roughly 2,100 barrels of oil and water from Mill Creek, and another 435 barrels from the broken pipe itself.
That leaves about 11,500 barrels — almost half a million gallons — to go.
The leak appears to be the worst incident in the pipeline’s 12-year history. “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,” Sierra Club lobbyist Zack Pistora told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Kansans should demand a full accounting of the rupture, including full reimbursement of all local and state expenses. The state’s residents must know why this happened, and if it could happen again.
(Missouri should pay attention, too: Part of the existing Keystone pipeline transmits oil through the state to Illinois.)
TC Energy, which operates the Canada-based pipeline, must fully cooperate with federal and state investigators as they examine the leak, and the response. The federal government may want to consider shutting the pipeline down permanently unless it gets answers.
Environmental officials say there is no evidence the pipeline’s tar sands oil ended up in drinking water after the leak. Yet the geography is clear: Mill Creek drains into the Little Blue River, which drains into the Big Blue River, which drains into the Tuttle Creek reservoir — where water is stored before release into the Kansas River.
The Kansas River, sometimes known as the Kaw, provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Kansans. It drains into the Missouri River.
“Disasters like this one illustrate how connected the people and places in our watershed truly are,” the environmental nonprofit Friends of the Kaw said in a statement. “For the sake of the people and wildlife in Washington County and those living downstream who could be impacted, we urge TC Energy to clean up the entire spill.”
TC Energy has committed to a cleanup. “We recognize this is concerning to the community and commit that we will continue our response until we have fully remediated the site,” the company said in a statement.
Washington and Topeka, must hold the company to that promise.
There will be voices urging the company to re-open the pipeline quickly. Those voices will likely come from other states — states not facing the stench of the leak, or the potential threat. They’ll say cheap gasoline is more important than health and safety.
They are wrong. Lawmakers and state activists fought the Keystone XL pipeline, an extension of the existing facility, precisely because they feared the company (and legislators) would make convenience and cost more important than safe operation.
Oh, and gas is cheaper than it was at this time last year.
In 2021, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Biden administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, the next phase of the project. Imagine if Schmidt had won his race for governor.
The oil spill is a major disaster. Local, state and federal officials — and the company — must stop the leak, fix the pipe, pay for the damage, and make sure it can’t happen again before turning the pumps back on.