TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. government regulators have stopped allowing a large part of the Keystone oil pipeline to operate at higher-than-normal pressures following a massive oil spill in northeastern Kansas in December.
The order this week from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s pipeline safety arm covers 1,220 miles (1,963 kilometers) of the Keystone pipeline in seven U.S. states. Regulators already had ordered the system’s operator, Canada-based TC Energy, to reduce the pressure on a 96-mile (155-kilometer) segment of the pipeline from southern Nebraska near the Kansas border into central Kansas, where the spill occurred.
The regulators’ action came ahead of the first hearings in the Kansas Legislature on the spill. A TC Energy official is set to face questions from lawmakers Tuesday during a joint meeting of two House committees.
TC Energy said in a statement Friday that it was already operating within the pressure limits set by this week’s order and that it would continue to comply.
“Our commitment to the safe operations of our system is unwavering,” the company said.
But Zack Pistora, a lobbyist in Kansas for the Sierra Club, said Friday that perhaps regulators should reconsider the Keystone pipeline’s operation “in its entirety.” The system has had more than 20 spills since it began operations in 2010, and the one in Kansas was the system’s largest and the largest U.S. onshore spill in nine years, according to the regulators.
”There’s no confidence that this pipeline won’t be breaking again in the near future, even with less pressure,” Pistora said.
The latest order from regulators directed TC Energy to lower the maximum pressure by 10% on the pipeline from North Dakota’s border with Canada to northern Oklahoma, as well as the system’s spur from southern Nebraska through Missouri into central Illinois. That would bring the maximum pressure into line with what’s normally allowed after TC Energy had received a special permit to exceed it six years ago.
A pipeline rupture Dec. 7 dumped nearly 13,000 barrels — each with enough crude to fill a standard household bathtub — in a creek through rural pasture land in Washington County, Kansas, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Kansas City.
No one was evacuated following the spill, and officials said it did not affect the two larger rivers and reservoir downstream from the affected creek. With regulators’ permission, the company reopened the affected segment a little more than three weeks after the spill.
However, in a separate Jan. 6 cleanup order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the amount of oil spilled was “a harmful quantity” violating the nation’s clean water laws. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the EPA order through a Freedom of Information Act request.
TC Energy must notify the state and the EPA’s on-site coordinator before shipping out any hazardous materials. Also, the company will pay the U.S. government’s costs from the cleanup and faces a fine of nearly $52,000 a day if it violates the EPA order.