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Keystone Pipeline Kansas Leak

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In December 2022, "the Keystone pipeline ruptured for the 23rd time since 2010 and spilled 14,000 bathtubs' worth of oil in Kansas."

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On January 10 2023, Imgur user Mech0T1 shared a screenshot of a tweet, which claimed that the Keystone Pipeline ruptured in Kansas in December 2023:

Twitter user @davenewworld_2 initially published the tweet on January 10 2022. An image of a substance (presumably oil) soaking a landscape was attached to the tweet, but it did not link to an article or information about the purported Keystone Pipeline incident that the tweet referenced.

Reverse image search located 91 iterations of the image, first crawled on December 10 2022. Many of the earliest results pointed to contemporaneous yet unrelated stories, but one matched a December 12 2022 CBS News article: “The Keystone Pipeline has had at least 3 significant spills in the last 5 years. Here’s what to know.”

The tweet stated that the incident involved “14,000 bathtubs’ worth of oil [spilled] in Kansas.” That figure appeared in the first paragraph:

A small Kansas county became a site of a significant pipeline failure [in early December 2022] as the Keystone Pipeline leaked an estimated 14,000 barrels of crude oil into a creek — the largest spill in its history. Now, officials are scrambling to clean up the mess made by the system, which stretches more than 2,600 miles from Canada to the U.S.

And it isn’t the first time they’ve had to do so.

Another claim in the tweet referenced the frequency of such incidents, describing it as the “23rd time since 2010” the pipeline had ruptured. CBS News went on to corroborate the claim, citing the Government Accountability Office, or GAO:

The Keystone Pipeline has had nearly two dozen accidents since it went into service in 2010, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a history similar to other oil pipelines. There are dozens of “significant” oil pipeline incidents every year in the U.S., according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, costing more than $3 billion and leading to the deaths of six people since 2002. More than 719,000 barrels of crude oil have been lost in that time, with each barrel being about 42 gallons.

The CBS story linked to a December 9 2022 article about the Kansas oil spill, reporting that the rupture occurred on December 7 2022. The outlet noted that “the company” estimated roughly 14,000 barrels of oil were spilled:

An oil spill in a creek in northeastern Kansas shut down a major pipeline that carries oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, briefly causing oil prices to rise Thursday [December 8 2022]. It is the largest for an onshore crude pipeline in more than nine years and by far the biggest in the history of the Keystone pipeline, according to federal data.

Canada-based TC Energy said it shut down its Keystone system Wednesday night [December 7 2022] following a drop in pipeline pressure. It said oil spilled into a creek in Washington County, Kansas, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northwest of Kansas City.

The company on Thursday [December 8 2022] estimated the spill’s size at about 14,000 barrels, or 588,000 gallons, and said the affected pipeline segment had been “isolated” and the oil contained at the site with booms, or barriers. It did not say how the spill occurred.

In the same article, the outlet mentioned “at least 22 spills” involving the Keystone Pipeline between 2010 and 2022:

Janet Kleeb, who founded the Bold Nebraska environmental and landowner rights group that campaigned against the Keystone XL, said there have been at least 22 spills along the original Keystone pipeline since it began service in 2010. She said federal studies have shown the type of heavy tar sands oil the pipeline carries can be especially difficult to clean up in water because it tends to sink.

A document published on the website of the GAO (“Pipeline Safety: Information on Keystone Accidents and DOT Oversight”) was dated July and August 2021, and it validated the tweet’s “23rd time since 2010” figure:

The Keystone Pipeline has transported over 3 billion barrels of crude oil from Canada to U.S. refineries since 2010. Keystone’s accident history is similar to other pipelines, but the severity of its spills has worsened in recent years due to 2 large spills in 2017 and 2019.

The Department of Transportation required Keystone operator TC Energy to investigate and address the root causes of the 4 largest spills. DOT has also issued enforcement actions and civil penalties for problems like inadequate corrosion prevention. Based on Keystone “lessons learned,” DOT has increased inspection resources for other pipelines during construction.

[…]

Keystone’s accident history has been similar to other crude oil pipelines since 2010, but the severity of spills has worsened in recent years. Similar to crude oil pipelines nationwide, most of Keystone’s 22 accidents from 2010 through 2020 released fewer than 50 barrels of oil and were contained on operator-controlled property such as a pump station. The two largest spills in Keystone’s history in 2017 and 2019 were among the six accidents that met PHMSA’s criteria for accidents “impacting people or the environment.” According to PHMSA’s measures for these more severe types of accidents, from 2010 to 2020 TC Energy performed better than nationwide averages, but worse in the past five years due to the 2017 and 2019 spills.

The image in the tweet appeared alongside a December 9 2022 news release from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “TC Energy Pipeline Oil Discharge Near Washington, Kansas.” The EPA stated that responding EPA workers provided “oversight of containment and cleanup operations being performed by TC Energy.”

A separate entry on EPA.gov provided information about the incident and its effects on the affected area:

On the morning of December 8, 2022, TC Energy reported a pressure drop in a 36-inch crude oil pipeline, part of the Keystone pipeline system near Washington, Kansas. The pressure drop was documented at approximately 9:30pm on December 7, 2022. The pressure drop was confirmed to be from a line rupture south of a Mill Creek crossing near 39.841667 degrees north latitude and 96.995578 degrees west longitude. At the time of rupture, the pipeline was under pressure (700-900 PSI), resulting in wide-spread vegetation staining. In addition, oil discharged overland and into Mill Creek, a nearby perennial stream. TC Energy estimates the total oil volume discharged as 588,000 gallons (14,000 barrels).

On December 17 2022, NPR covered ongoing mitigation efforts, noting that the type of oil spilled posed additional challenges in a cleanup likely to take years to complete:

It’s been over a week since TC Energy announced its Keystone pipeline leaked into Mill Creek in Washington County, Kan [on December 7 2022]. Nearly 600,000 gallons of oil spilled into the waterway as well as the land surrounding it.

Environmental advocates say this is just the beginning of a cleanup that will likely take years.

Operators were alerted to an issue with the pipeline on Dec. 7. As of Friday morning, TC Energy says, 4,125 barrels of oil from the creek have been recovered of the estimated 14,000 barrels (about 588,000 gallons) reportedly lost in the spill … Many initial details, like the cause of the spill, are still not clear. What is known is the type of oil that was being transported through the pipeline: tar sands oil, also called diluted bitumen.

This thick, toxic substance makes cleanup so much more difficult, said Jane Kleeb, the founder of Bold Alliance, and Anthony Swift, director of the Canada Project with the Natural Resources Defense Council, both environmental advocacy groups.

A December 21 2022 article about the spill quantified the environmental damage:

Four dead mammals and 71 dead fish were recovered from the latest spill site, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is involved in cleanup efforts with the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), state and local agencies, the pipeline owner and operator TC Energy and the company’s contractors. About 5,500 barrels of oil and water and 5,000 cubic yards of oil-contaminated soil have been recovered in initial cleanup efforts.

Most of the undamaged parts of the pipeline resumed operations [before December 21 2022], as cleanup efforts and an investigation into the cause of the spill continue. On [December 20 2022] it was reported that TC Energy had submitted its plan to regulators for fully restarting it.

On December 23 2022, KETV’s “Ruptured Keystone pipeline segment in Kansas cleared for reopening” reported:

Canada-based TC Energy announced Friday that U.S. government regulators approved its restart plan for the Keystone XL pipeline’s segment running from Steele City, Nebraska, to Cushing, Oklahoma.

[…]

A Corrective Action Order previously filed by federal regulators notes five other serious actions for spills since the pipeline opened in 2010.

TC Energy said crews will be conducting testing and inspections through the Christmas holiday, but didn’t say exactly when the pipeline will reopen.

A viral January 10 2022 tweet asserted that “the Keystone pipeline ruptured for the 23rd time since 2010 and spilled 14,000 bathtubs’ worth of oil in Kansas” in December 2022. Although the tweet did not link to any news articles, the claims are accurate. On December 7 2022, a rupture in the Keystone Pipeline “leaked an estimated 14,000 barrels of crude oil into a creek” in Kansas. Existing information from the GAO from 2021 indicated that there had been 22 spills between 2010 and 2020.