(Calgary) Spills from TC Energy’s Keystone pipeline have increased in severity in recent years, to the point that the pipeline’s safety record is now worse than the U.S. average, according to U.S. government data.
The 4,324 km pipeline — which is owned by TC Energy of Canada and helps move Canadian and U.S. crude oil to markets in North America — suffered the worst leak in its history last week, when about 14,000 barrels of oil spilled into a waterway in Washington County, Kansas.
Even before that event, the Keystone pipeline’s safety record had deteriorated, according to a report released last year by the US Government Accountability Office, a US congressional oversight agency.
“Keystone’s accident history has been similar to that of other oil pipelines since 2010, but the severity of spills has increased in recent years,” the report said.
As with other crude oil pipelines in North America, most of Keystone’s 22 accidents from 2010 to 2020 released less than 50 barrels of oil and were confined to operator-controlled property, such as a gas station. pumping, can we read.
Nonetheless, in 2017, a Keystone leak resulted in a spill of around 6,600 barrels in North Dakota, while in 2019 the pipeline spilled around 4,500 barrels of oil in South Dakota.
Both events—which, combined, were even smaller than last week’s spill in Kansas—were large enough to meet the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) criteria for a “human or environmental impact” accident. ).
“According to PHMSA measurements for these more severe accident types, from 2010 to 2020, TC Energy performed better than the national averages, but they are worse over the past five years,” the GOA report states. .
In an emailed statement Monday, TC Energy said it has taken “decisive steps” over the past few years to strengthen its approach to the security and integrity of its pipeline system.
“We take every incident very seriously. No incident is ever acceptable to us,” said Reid Fiest, TC’s public information manager.
On Monday, TC Energy had more than 250 people on the ground in Washington County cleaning up the latest spill. Although the company said the oil was contained, it has not yet identified the cause of the leak.
The Keystone pipeline system remains closed and no restart date has been set. The company said it would conduct a full investigation, in cooperation with regulators, into the cause of the spill.
Pipelines are widely considered by experts to be a safer mode of transporting crude oil than rail or truck. Yet the risk of a spill has long been a factor cited by environmentalists and others who have opposed pipeline construction projects in North America in recent years.
For example, fears about potential pipeline leaks as well as concerns about climate change have helped stoke opposition to TC Energy’s proposed Keystone XL expansion. This project would have passed through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, but its permit was eventually canceled by US President Joe Biden in 2021.
According to the GOA report, Keystone is the only crude oil pipeline in the United States to have obtained a special permit from PHMSA to operate portions of the pipeline at a higher pressure level than permitted by applicable regulations.
As a result, since 2017, TC Energy has been operating Keystone at a higher operating pressure than would normally be permitted under US rules.
However, the GOA report concluded that the 2017 and 2019 spills were not the result of this special permit.
Instead, the report identified “construction issues” leading to material failure of pipes or welding equipment as the main factor in Keystone’s past accidents. It is written that the 2017 Keystone leak was caused by problems in the construction, installation or manufacturing of the pipeline, while the 2019 accident in North Dakota was caused by defects in the manufacture of origin of the pipeline.