Keystone pipeline owner blames Kansas spill on faulty weld, estimates $480M remediation cost

By: - February 9, 2023 6:07 pm

Oil covers a swath of Bill Pannbacker’s pasture near Washington, Kansas. Pannbacker estimated oil sprayed 80 yards into his property from the rupture, which occurred just over his property line. (Submitted)

TOPEKA — The Keystone oil pipeline’s massive spill in northern Kansas was likely caused by a faulty welding job, the company that owns the pipeline said Thursday.

Meanwhile, a Kansas environmental group claimed that Canada-based TC Energy was attempting to “pass the buck” for design flaws that will likely cause more crude oil spills.

The 13-year-old pipeline burst in December near Washington, Kansas, unleashing what was initially estimated at 14,000 barrels of oil – or 588,000 gallons.

Size of spill updated

On Thursday, the company, formerly called TransCanada, revised that estimate to 12,937 barrels, which is still the largest spill in the pipeline’s history.

pipeline spill
TC Energy workers in December at the site of a pipeline spill near Washington, Kansas, just a few miles south of the Nebraska border. (Courtesy of TC Energy)

Federal regulators ordered TC Energy to investigate the cause of the spill in Washington County, which dumped oil onto adjacent farmland and into Mill Creek.

The company said in a release Thursday that an independent analysis revealed the pipe burst was caused in part by bending stress on the pipe and a faulty welding job where the pipe was fabricated.

“Although welding inspection and testing were conducted within applicable codes and standards, the weld flaw led to a crack that propagated over time as a result of bending stress fatigue, eventually leading to an instantaneous rupture,” the company said.

The company estimated the cost of “remediation, investigation and shared learning” would be $480 million.

The Sierra Club of Kansas slammed the company’s explanation on Thursday, saying that it was trying to “pass the buck” to a third party for what are design flaws that set up the Keystone pipeline for another leak.
“The failure analysis reaffirms it’s only a matter of time before another weld fails or design error causes environmental disaster like this again, or worse,” said Zack Pistora, lobbyist for the Sierra Club of Kansas.

Time to ‘shut this pipeline down’

“It’s time for TC Energy to shut this pipeline down and stop putting our climate and communities in danger time and again,” Pistora said.

The Keystone pipeline carries crude oil processed from tar sands in Canada to refineries in Illinois and Texas. It was a forerunner to the Keystone XL pipeline, an associated project that was abandoned after President Joe Biden cancelled its permit to enter the U.S.

TC Energy has paid just over $300,000 in fines for more than 20 previous spills. That’s 0.2% of the more than $111 million in property damage resulting from those spills.

Nebraska Examiner senior reporter Paul Hammel contributed to this report.

This article first appeared in the Kansas Reflector, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom Network.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for the Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for the Kansas City Star.