On Dec. 7, an estimated 14,000 barrels of oil spilled into a creek in Washington County, Kansas. The oil spill has shut down the Keystone Pipeline System, a major pipeline that carries crude oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.
On social media, multiple people claimed this oil spill is the largest in Keystone Pipeline history. Online searches show many people are wondering if these claims are true.
Is the Kansas oil spill the largest in Keystone Pipeline history?
Yes, the Kansas oil spill is the largest in Keystone Pipeline history.
WHAT WE FOUND
The Dec. 7 incident that released nearly 14,000 barrels of oil into a creek in Washington County, Kansas, is the largest crude oil spill in Keystone Pipeline history, according to federal data obtained by VERIFY.
The Keystone Pipeline System, which stretches nearly 2,700 miles from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast in Texas, delivers Canadian and U.S. crude oil supplies to markets across North America, according to Canada-based TC Energy, the company that owns the pipeline. It has been in operation since 2010.
TC Energy had plans to build another crude oil pipeline in the Keystone system, the 1,200-mile Keystone XL, which would have cut across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. But after more than 10 years of protests, legal challenges and the cancellation of a key permit for the project by President Joe Biden, the company decided to terminate its Keystone XL pipeline plans in June 2021.
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In a July 2021 report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that from 2010 to 2020, there had been 22 accidents, or oil spills, on the Keystone Pipeline. In the majority of those spills, fewer than 50 barrels of oil were released, according to GAO.
But in 2017 and 2019, two of the biggest Keystone Pipeline oil spills occurred — one in northeastern South Dakota near Amherst that spilled 6,592 barrels in November 2017, and another in northeastern North Dakota, near Edinburg, that spilled 4,515 barrels in October 2019.
In an email, Emily Larson, the senior analyst at GAO in charge of the July 2021 report, told VERIFY the Kansas oil spill on Dec. 7 “is the largest in the pipeline’s history.”
“According to our July 2021 report, the largest accident in size prior to this Kansas one was the spill near Amherst, South Dakota, in Nov. 2017 which released 6,592 barrels of oil. The preliminary reports of the recent Kansas spill indicate it released 14,000 barrels,” Larson said.
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The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) also confirmed the initial 14,000 barrels estimate in an order that requires TC Energy to take “necessary corrective actions to protect the public, property and the environment from potential hazards” associated with the Dec. 7 oil spill.
As of Dec. 12, TC Energy said its crews had recovered 2,598 barrels of oil and water from the creek in Washington County, Kansas. The company says the Keystone Pipeline System will remain shut down as recovery efforts continue.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.