Consultants: Design issues, operations lapses led to big Kansas oil spill

Issues with pipeline design and lapses in maintenance led to the 2017 Dakota Access Pipeline oil spill.

Consultants: Design issues, operations lapses led to big Kansas oil spill

TOPEKA (Kan.) (AP). -- Design issues with the pipeline, lapses in its operation and problems during construction caused a massive spill of oil on the Keystone system in northeastern Kansas. This is according to a government report.

A report by an engineering firm stated that the Keystone bend where the spill in December 2022 occurred was 'overstressed since its installation in 2010' -- probably because the construction activity altered the land surrounding the pipe. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration published

A redacted version of the report

Online Monday, approximately three weeks after RSI Pipeline Solutions in Columbus, Ohio completed the project.

The report raised concerns about the oversight provided by Canada's TC Energy in the manufacture of its pipeline. Its authors said they could not find any record of a weld inspection prior to installation on the Washington County Bend. The report concluded that TC Energy underestimated risks when the bend changed from its original round shape to an oval shape in just two years. It also found no evidence of a pre-installation inspection.

In February, the company stated that a faulty welding in the bend had caused a crack which grew with time. The spill released nearly 13,000 barrels worth of crude oil - each enough to fill an average household bathtub - into a stream that runs through a rural field in Washington County, Kansas. This is located about 150 miles (240 km) northwest of Kansas City. This was the biggest onshore spill for nearly nine years.

'When a pipeline is spilling or has as many problems as Keystone 1, it's a clear red flag there are larger issues at play," said Jane Kleeb. She founded the Bold Nebraska group, an environmental and landowner rights organization that helped stop TC Energy from building a second pipeline called Keystone XL.

Since the construction of Keystone in 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has recorded 22 leaks. Washington County had the biggest leak.

"At what stage does the federal government... intervene and say that this has reached a level where we must shut down the entire line to conduct a thorough review of the pipeline?" Kleeb stated.

The Keystone pipeline system, which stretches 2,700 miles (4,345 kilometers) long, transports heavy crude oil from western Canada all the way to central Illinois and the Gulf Coast. Concerns about spills polluting waterways led TC Energy to abandon its plans to build Keystone XL through 1,200 miles (1.900 kilometers) in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska.

No one in Kansas was evacuated due to the spill that occurred in December. Officials from both the state and federal governments have stated that it did not affect two rivers or a lake located downstream of the creek.

In response to a Tuesday request for comments, TC Energy referred to a press release it released when the report had been completed in April. The statement was not made public. Richard Prior, President of TC Energy’s Liquids Pipeline Operations, stated that the company had confidence in the reliability of the pipeline.

TC Energy announced last week it had completed the recovery of oil from the Creek.

Prior stated last month that he was unwavering about his commitment to remediate the entire site.

Bill Caram is the executive director of Pipeline Safety Trust, a watchdog group. He said the public has many reasons to be skeptical about the safety of the Keystone Pipeline, given the problems that have occurred along its route.

'I certainly would like to see PHMSA develop a plan with TC Energy so that the public is assured that TC Energy can operate this pipeline in a safe manner going forward. Caram stated that he did not believe the public had such a high level of confidence in this pipeline at present.

Richard Kuprewicz has spent five decades in the pipeline business and advises governments on the subject. He said that problems such as this flawed weld should be discovered during construction, but TC Energy missed it because of the pressure to complete the project quickly.

It looks like quality control has gotten out of hand, at least for this segment. Kuprewicz is the president of Accufacts, a Washington-based company.

According to the consultants' report, the ruptured pipeline and oil spill happened only a few days after TC Energy started testing for an increase in pressure within the Keystone System. However, the Kansas section operated at a pressure that was 16% lower than the maximum pressure permitted by U.S. regulators. The company also ran a device along the pipeline in order to detect any potential leaks.

The report stated that pipeline valves were left opened so that the leak testing tool could pass through, which could have contributed to spill size.

A report stated that a March 20, 2021 engineering assessment showed that five bends of the Keystone pipeline, including Washington County, had the exact same oval "deformation."

The report stated that, in general, the industry does not view so-called "ovalities" as a danger. Therefore, the "obvious" focus in Washington County during 2012 and 2013, when this abnormality was discovered there was to ensure that a leak-detecting device could still pass through the bend.

The report stated that 'Yet, this focus could have caused the Pipe Integrity Team and senior management overlook a possible concern of added strain on the elbow and it's potential impact on future integrity'.

In the report, it was noted that 108 pipe fittings made for the Keystone System in 2010 may have similar 'imperfections.' to the Washington County bend. The report added that 108 other pipe fittings manufactured for the Keystone system in 2010 could have 'imperfections' similar to those found at Washington County bend.

The report concluded that it was 'plausible,' because other bends made the same day also had weld defects that were repaired.

A lack of inspection reports means, at minimum, that record-keeping procedures have not been followed. At worst, it could mean the report states, "The weld inspections never took place."

Funk reported from Omaha Nebraska.

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