Oil-soaked soil from Kansas pipeline spill was sent to landfill near Omaha

Environmental watchdog says soil should be monitored, ‘no way’ it isn’t hazardous

By: - February 23, 2023 7:22 pm
oil spill

Workers at the site of the Dec. 7 oil spill from the Keystone pipeline near Washington, Kansas. TC Energy estimated it would cost $480 million to clean up the oil. (Courtesy of EPA)

LINCOLN — Thousands of cubic yards of oil-soaked soil from a pipeline leak in Kansas ended up in a landfill in the Omaha area, and an environmental watchdog wants the state to make sure it isn’t contaminating anything here.

“This is a foreign corporation that is using Nebraska as a dumping ground,” said Jane Kleeb, the founder of Bold Nebraska.

State officials, she said, should have informed Nebraskans that this waste was coming here and should now insist on regular monitoring to ensure it is not impacting soil or water here.

The oil-drenched soil contains some hazardous chemicals, including benzene and hydrogen sulfide, according to lab reports posted on the Nebraska Department of Environmental and Energy website.

Lab tests say it’s OK

Officials with both Canada-based TC Energy and the Pheasant Point Landfill near Bennington said Thursday that lab tests of the soil, trucked from the crude oil leak on the Keystone pipeline in northeast Kansas, have deemed it safe to be deposited at the landfill.

Carla Felix, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy, said the department was “confident” the soil qualified as “nonhazardous solid waste,” after reviewing lab reports required by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the EPA.

“Pheasant Point is designed to accept these types of solid wastes, and is designed to meet federal and the State of Nebraska regulations for landfills,” said Lisa Disbrow of Waste Management, which owns the Pheasant Point landfill.

She said the “cells” of the landfill have composite liners of 2 feet of compacted clay and a 60-mil (thousands of an inch) sheet of polyethylene that protects against contamination of groundwater.

Pipeline ruptured in December

The landfill, which is just north of Nebraska Highway 36 on 216th Street, also has monitoring wells to detect problems, Disbrow said.

Keystone spill
The response site, photographed earlier, to the oil spill on Keystone pipeline near Washington, Kansas. (Courtesy of TC Energy)

She said Thursday that 16,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil has so far been trucked from the pipeline spill, which occurred on Dec. 7 near Washington, Kansas.

The Examiner heard rumors that the soil was coming to Nebraska a month ago but was just recently able to confirm it.

Documents on the NDEE website indicated that TC Energy initially applied Dec. 14 to deposit up to 100,000 tons or 75,000 cubic yards of soil at the Rolling Meadows landfill near Topeka, Kansas, which is also operated by Waste Management.

The Nebraska landfill was chosen, according to Disbrow, because it is larger and can accept more solid waste. It routinely accepts solid waste from outside the state, she added.

If 75,000 cubic yards were sent to the Pheasant Point landfill, it would cover a football-field sized area to almost 40 feet deep.

The pipeline leak occurred on a portion of the Keystone pipeline that runs from Steele City, Nebraska, to Cushing, Oklahoma.

Nearly a half million gallons of crude oil, about 13,000 barrels, flowed into Mill Creek, east of Washington, Kansas. It is the largest oil spill on the Keystone pipeline since it went into service 13 years ago.

Faulty weld blamed for spill

Two weeks ago, TC Energy said the leak was caused by a faulty weld in the steel pipeline. The company estimated the cost of “remediation, investigation and shared learning” at $480 million.

Jane Kleeb
Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska and chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party (Courtesy of Nebraska Democratic Party)

Kleeb, whose group led the opposition to a now-abandoned companion to the Keystone pipeline, the Keystone XL, said there is “no way” the soil and other materials hauled from the pipeline leak are not hazardous.

Citizens, she said, should have been informed that this waste was coming from Kansas and should be made aware of the ongoing monitoring of it.

 “How many landfills said ‘no’ before ours said yes?” Kleeb asked.

A cleanup order, finalized Jan. 6 with the EPA, said the spill significantly affected fish and wildlife and posed a threat to human health and the environment. Initially, oil was 10 inches thick for a distances of 1.5 miles downstream on Mill Creek, which is adjacent to the spill site, the EPA said.

A higher-volume diversion, to guide creek flows around the spill site, is under construction, according to the EPA.

Last week, the agency said a new phase in the spill response had begun, focusing on “identifying and implementing tactics that address the remaining recoverable oil from surface water, ice, debris, sediments, and shorelines.”


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.