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250 workers deployed to the Keystone pipeline spill in Kansas, but the cleanup’s end isn’t in sight

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The workers are on site in Washington County to survey and clean the Keystone pipeline oil spill that moved about three miles downstream in Mill Creek

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By Dylan Lysen – Kansas News Service / KCUR

The largest inland oil spill in nearly a decade has prompted the owner of the Keystone pipeline to build an earthen dam three miles downstream from the release in an attempt to limit the contamination in north-central Kansas.

Canadian company TC Energy also said it’s deployed some 250 workers to limit the damage from the pipeline’s rupture last week and the release of 14,000 barrels worth of crude — enough sludge to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Meantime, federal regulators said it appears the oil has not fouled groundwater.

TC Energy says it’s unclear how long it will take to clean up the damage and remediate the soil in Washington County, just south of the Nebraska border.

On Monday, its workers further surveyed the damage and prepared for rainy weather in the forecast. The pipeline company said it’s also conducting air quality checks, but it has detected no reason for public health concerns.

The company said it will continue clean-up efforts at the site until it is completely remedied and the pipeline will not restart until regulators say it’s safe.

“The health and safety of onsite staff and personnel, the surrounding community, and mitigating risk to the environment is our primary focus right now,” TC Energy said on its website.

Clean up crews contained a 14,000-barrel oil spill from the Keystone Pipeline rupture in north-central Kansas. (Photo by Nebraska Public Media)

The spill of roughly 580,000 gallons came with pipeline rupture last week that had residents waking up to an odor that smelled like petroleum.

Kellen Ashford, a spokesperson for the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency, said Monday the cause of the rupture will be determined by crews from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Officials for that agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ashford said the EPA has no timeline for TC Energy’s remediation efforts.

The oil had made it about three miles downstream in Mill Creek but was contained within the dam waterway. No groundwater has been affected, Ashford said.

“The only water that has been impacted has been the surface water in the creek,” the EPA spokesperson said. “The drinking water has not been impacted by the pipeline rupture.”

The type of oil in the Keystone pipeline is sludgy and often sinks to the bottom of waterways – making it more difficult to clean than conventional crude oil. The pipeline carries oil from Canada to American refineries. It has previously leaked in South Dakota and North Dakota, CNN reported.

TC Energy had planned to build an additional pipeline called the Keystone XL, which sparked years of political debate, legal wrestling and protests — primarily generated by environmental groups worried that expanding fossil fuels infrastructure would hurt efforts to fight carbon emissions and slow climate change. President Joe Biden blocked the XL pipeline immediately upon taking office.

Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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Derek Nester
Derek Nesterhttps://sunflowerstateradio.com
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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