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EPA restores regular water flow in Kansas creek devastated by 2022 oil pipeline break

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TOPEKA — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the creek near Washington, Kansas, inundated with 588,000 gallons of oil when a 36-inch pipeline ruptured nearly a year ago is now flowing naturally.

The final visual inspection of Mill Creek in north-central Kansas on Oct. 13 led EPA to declare oil recovery operations completed in what has been categorized as the biggest U.S. oil spill in nine years.

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The break in the Canada’s TC Energy pipe Dec. 7, 2022, was identified remotely due to a substantial pressure drop in the pipe. The rupture in the high-pressure line stained a hillside black and poured crude into the perennial stream, which carried oil three miles downstream.

The pipeline was back in service within three weeks. Bulk oil recovery was finished in January, while submerged oil particles in the creek were removed until May. That allowed crews to focus on stream restoration.

“We will maintain a presence at site to progress long-term reclamation activities and environmental monitoring, supporting our commitment to full reclamation of the land,” the energy company said. “Again, we thank the Washington County community, landowners, local responders and involved agencies for their sustained support as we managed this incident response.”

EPA said in a statement Tuesday that 650,000 gallons of oil from the Keystone pipeline was recovered, including oil from the pipeline following the rupture. In addition, the federal agency said 200,000 tons of oil-impacted soil, sediment and debris had to be excavated and transferred off-site for disposal.

In total, 54 million gallons of contaminated surface water was treated and discharged back into Mill Creek.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Kansas Department of Health have responsibility for continuing inspection and monitoring for up to five years.

In April, Calgary-based TC Energy said the 14,000-barrel spill was primarily the consequence of a fatigue crack in the pipe that originated during construction of the line.

However, RSI Pipeline Solutions of Columbus, Ohio, reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration the break resulted from pipeline design issues, problems during pipeline construction and lapses by pipeline operators.

TC Energy and EPA signed a consent order in January requiring the company to perform the cleanup work under federal government oversight. The estimated cost of the cleanup was pegged at $480 million.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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