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Did You Know a 36-inch Pipeline Rupture Can Release 13,000 Barrels of Heavy Crude Oil?

Photo credit: Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector

By Sharon Franklin.

Tim Carpenter, reporter for the Kansas Reflector, recently reported a massive oil spill that is distorting a Kansas couple’s confidence in the integrity of the Keystone pipeline. The rupture of TC Energy’s 36-inch steel pipe has released 13,000 barrels of heavy crude in Washington, Kansas.

Chris and Bill Pannbacker, beef and crop producers who grew up in a farmhouse less than 1-mile from the pipeline break, found a major break in the TC Energy Keystone pipeline that poured crude oil “black-as-night” on their livestock’s grazing land and into the Mill Creek. The Federal regulators told them the accident was because of problems with design construction and operation of the pipeline. Meanwhile, TC Energy blamed a faulty weld in a bend that cracked under stress.

How Did This Happen? On December 7, there was an alarming pressure drop in the Keystone’s pipeline, and equipment showed the rupture; however, before the Keystone pipeline could be shut down as much as 500,000 gallons of crude oil were discharged. It has affected vegetation and infected the modest creek. Under the oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, TC Energy reopened the pipeline in three weeks, with restoration plans to proceed.

Unfortunately for the Pannbackers, they were involuntarily drawn into this environmental nightmare, more than 6 months ago, and are still being affected by the relatively quick repairs.  During the clean-up, they have had an unobstructed view of work being done to remediate the area by a fleet of heavy equipment (excavators, bulldozers, trucks) tasked with the removal of oil-saturated soil for disposal. According to EPA, the $480 million project to remove oil and chemical pollution and to remediate the area continues.

The Pannbackers are planning to eventually move back to their family farm but are uneasy about the potential of another break in the pipeline, as Bill Pannbacker verbalized “You’re damn right! If that line blows on top of that hill, it’s going to shoot oil all over. It’s going to cover that valley.  I don’t have the confidence in the line that I did before.” Bill Pannbacker added, “I am impressed with the cleanup effort and the intensity of the cleanup effort,” However, it hasn’t quashed his apprehension and as he knows the clock is ticking toward a repeat of the pipeline catastrophe.

Backyard Talk

Behind the Dakota Access, Keystone XL, Atlantic Coast Pipeline Wins

By Hamsavardhini “Anu” Thirunarayanan, Intern
This past Sunday, July 5, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy declared that they would cancel their planned Atlantic Coast Pipeline, despite the $3.4 billion investment and just 20 days after securing a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court vote allowing them to build the pipeline below the Appalachian Trail. Fierce opposition from communities across North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia are overjoyed by this victory.
The next day, federal judge James Boasberg ordered the closure and emptying of the Dakota Access Pipeline pending an environmental review, which is a generally unprecedented resolution for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their lengthy struggle against the oil project. Later that Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused the Trump administration’s emergency bid to allow the Keystone XL pipeline development to move forward while environmental concerns similar to the Dakota Access Pipeline are being resolved.
Environmental organizations all across the country are ecstatic. Kelly Martin, the director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuel campaign stated “A new era upon us—one for clean energy, and one where the risks of fossil fuel infrastructure are increasingly exposed.” “The era of multibillion dollar investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is over,” said Jan Hasselman of the environmental group Earthjustice and attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
There are two main reasons for such optimism:

  1. The energy industry is grappling with the economic downturns of COVID-19, which has aggravated the already decreasing demand for oil and gas. Falling oil prices make the financial case for new pipelines even more complicated.
  2. The government has made a grave error by speeding through the National Environmental Policy Act process, neglecting the thorough environmental analysis for many of the current pipelines as mandated by law. This could allow for more litigation wins against other pipeline projects that communities are actively renouncing.

We could very well be witnessing the moment in time that marks the downturn of the oil industry. However, it is important to note that the fight is far from over. The Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline operations have only been halted, and they could easily be allowed to continue after the environmental review process is officially complete. Also, though the Keystone XL pipeline development has been halted, other pipelines that were under “Nationwide Permit 12” have been allowed to continue by the U.S. Supreme Court. This decision is overturning the cancellation ruled by a lower court federal judge Brian Morris. In addition, Energy Transfer (Dakota Access’s pipeline owner) refuses to accept the court demand. Instead, it’s continuing to schedule oil transport with its customers for August. Above all, even if the overall Republican administration is dealt a large blow with the cancellation of all new pipelines, there is no guarantee that oil will become a thing of the past—after all, Biden is also a top recipient of the oil & gas industry (though he has pledged to not reissue the Keystone permit if elected).
Despite grandiose statements made by various figures of large environmental organizations, to gain a true victory in this fight for their land and lives, there is much more to come for which the Sioux Nation needs to be prepared. For now though, hopefully these communities are taking a moment to rejoice their wins.
Photo by: Michael Nigro/Pacific Press, via LightRocket, via Getty Images