The Keystone operator must pay back some – not all – of the tax dollars spent on the Kansas oil spill.

When the Keystone pipeline burst in rural Kansas last month, workers rushed to build an emergency dam on Mill Creek.

Meanwhile, federal agencies sent pipeline experts and environmentalists to the scene.

And the state took up water sampling and search for injured animals.

It all comes at a cost to taxpayers, from transporting and accommodating workers to dressing them in waders that require special disposal as equipment gets dirty all the time.

TC Energy, the Canadian company behind the spill, will have to recoup some, but not all, of the public money spent to clean up the spill.

This week, several government agencies have expressed confidence that they will eventually reimburse their costs.

In the case of the federal and state governments, laws and mandatory regulations apply.

Washington County Emergency Manager Randy Hubbard said he was not aware of any laws requiring TC Energy to reimburse local government costs, but the company has promised to do so.

“From day one, TC Energy has been very adamant and willing to offer to cover any district-related costs,” he said in an email, “including but not limited to labor, resources, or materials.”

TC Energy reported over $13.3 billion in annual revenue and over $2 billion in net income in its latest report. annual report.

Keystone is the company’s largest oil pipeline system, transporting crude oil from Canada to refineries in the Midwest and the Gulf Coast. The system has spilled many timesbut the break in Kansas, which released an estimated 588,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil, was the largest spill to date.

/ Environmental Protection Agency


Environmental Protection Agency

Federal environmental and pipeline safety experts at the site of an oil spill on December 13, 2022.

State and federal spending

A wide range of government agencies respond to oil spills on land.

At least two Kansas agencies have said they can get TC Energy to reimburse their spill response efforts.

By state law, TC Energy must pay damages to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. If the company does not pay, the same law directs the Attorney General to sue.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks said it would also reimburse its costs. The agency tracks employee time, mileage and equipment.

In the meantime, the federal government can increase spending not only through the US Environmental Protection Agency, but also through support from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Department of Transportation. and more.

A portion of these tax dollars will be reimbursed.

This month, TC Energy agreed to an EPA regulation that requires the company to reimburse direct and indirect costs within 30 days of being billed.

This includes, for example, the federal government controlling TC Energy workers and contractors extracting oil from the creek. And the refund policy applies retroactively to expenses related to a spill more than a month old.

But other federal actions fall outside the scope of the order, such as sending pipeline security officials to Washington County.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety said it had no authority to seek reimbursement.

County government spending

Hubbard said the county has already submitted documentation of its spending to the company. (The Kansas News Service filed a public information request for the tapes.)

County emergency workers provided the shoes on the ground needed for a quick response.

Around 00:30 on December 8, TC Energy reported a possible leak to the federal oil spill hotline. At about 1:30 a.m., Hubbard and the county highway officer stepped in. The county worked with the company to seal off Mill Creek, where thousands of barrels of oil were flowing downstream.

“Most of the first day was spent building this dam,” Hubbard said in an email. “In addition, our road and bridge crew spent much of the first two days laying rocks and preparing/clearing roads in the immediate area to better support the expected arrival of heavy response equipment.”

Hubbard praised TC Energy’s efforts, saying he witnessed its commitment to reclaiming the site, keeping workers safe, and communicating with landowners.

“TC Energy was great to work with throughout this unfortunate event,” he said. “In addition, TC Energy has used and continues to use local contractors whenever possible.”

The company announced that it will donate $7,500 to equip local emergency services with the best mobile and radio equipment. He also said he would match donations made by the public to the Washington County hospital.

    This map shows where TC Energy will deviate Mill Creek to avoid a four-mile stretch requiring intensive cleanup.
This map shows where TC Energy will deviate Mill Creek to avoid a four-mile stretch requiring intensive cleanup.

More about the oil spill

Here is more information about the spill.

1. State EPA officials are now detecting less benzene and other chemicals downstream of the four-mile stretch of creek that TC Energy sealed off last week.

This section had already been dammed to contain floating oil, but water continued to flow downstream below the surface. As of last week, TC Energy is temporarily diverting water upstream of the spill, allowing it to bypass and shut off four miles of flow while cleanup continues.

The state announced this week that pollution is easing down Mill Creek and the river it flows into, Little Blue. However, it states that people should not touch Mill Creek downstream of the spill. They must also keep their pets and livestock away.

The Kansas News Service has asked the state for the results of weekly water sampling.

Families that rely on private wells in the area or use water from Mill Creek or Little Blue for livestock and ponds can ask TC Energy to test their water. (Send an email to [email protected] or call 1-855-920-4697.)

2. Animals soaked in oil are treated in a rehabilitation shelter.

“This area is heated, covered, guarded and staffed by a team of wildlife rehabilitation specialists and biologists,” an EPA spokesman said via email. “The leader of this response has over 20 years of experience in wildlife remediation and wildlife oil pollution response.”

Reporters were not allowed to visit the spill site or animal rehabilitation shelter, or interview the Fish and Wildlife Service, which handles wildlife issues at the site.

The total number of dead animals is unknown, but includes at least one beaver that died despite attempts to cure it.

Dozens of fish have died, although oil spills in bodies of water generally don’t do the same damage to fish as they do to turtles, birds and mammals entering the oil slick to get in and out of the water. Scientists say the impact on fish is increased when oil spills occur in shallow water.

3. Neither the state nor the federal government released the photos of injured, dead, or rehabilitated animals requested by the Kansas News Service. Kansas says it’s withholding the photos because it’s investigating the oil spill.

4. This month, TC Oil signed a compliance order with the Environmental Protection Agency that requires it to clean up Mill Creek and its banks.

The company must collect spilled oil from the stream and its banks, and remove contaminated soil and plants that could release more chemicals into the water.

This oil production must continue until the EPA and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment agree that it will be completed. The Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks can also contribute.

TC Energy must also monitor outlet pollution, but the order does not specify which methods it must use. Spilled Keystone in Kansas, a specialty product from Canadian tar sands that does not behave like traditional crude oil. A study by the National Academy of Sciences has found few reliable ways to detect dilbit when it begins to move below the surface in moving water.

The federal consent order does not mention the specific requirements associated with dilith cleanup, although leading scientists have urged the federal government to change its policies and procedures to distinguish dibit spills from normal crude oil spills.

5. It is unclear whether the federal government considers the consent order to apply to the entire spill site.

When the pipeline burst, crude oil sloshed into the air, spilling over acres of farmland in addition to the oil spilling into the stream.

The Kansas News Service asked if the EPA’s order applies to all land affected by the spill, not just the creek and its banks.

The EPA responded, “The current order is issued in accordance with the Clean Water Act. It requires Defendant to take mitigation action to reduce and mitigate the imminent and significant threat to Mill Creek and adjacent shorelines posed by the release of oil from a ruptured pipeline.”

But the EPA added that it “continues to coordinate with KDHE on a comprehensive cleanup strategy.”

The EPA also says that KDHE may require TC Energy to perform work “outside the scope of the EPA’s Clean Water Act.”

Learn more about the Keystone spill in Kansas:

Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a news reporter for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @celia_LJ or email her at celia (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration between KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW, and High Plains Public Radio dedicated to health, social determinants of health, and their relationship to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photographs may be published free of charge by the media with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
Copyright 2023 SDG 89.3. To learn more, visit KCUR 89.3.

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