TOPEKA (KSNT) – Keystone pipeline operator, TC Energy, is under fire following last year’s massive oil spill in Northeast Kansas, near the Nebraska border.
In a hearing Tuesday, state lawmakers grilled the pipeline operator on the aftermath of the spill that happened back in December. Questions about safety, payments of damages and ‘lack of transparency’ were just some of the biggest takeaways.
Gary Salsman, vice president of field operations for TC Energy, fielded questions from lawmakers. When asked how the company would address the increasing “frequency and severity” of spills, Salsman said the company is actively working to identify the “root cause” of the incident.
“We acknowledge that we’ve had previous incidents… and no incident is acceptable to us, and we want to make sure that something like this isn’t going to happen again,” he said. “We’ve gone above and beyond with integrity programs and video work plans on each of those situations, after we’ve determined the root cause.”
“We’re going to make sure that whatever caused this incident… we’re going to figure that out… and we’re going to rectify it,” Salsman said.
The oil spill in Kansas back in December was the largest spill in the history of the Keystone pipeline, according to federal data. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil spilled into a creek in Washington county, killing or displacing wildlife and impacting nearby land.
Salsman said the company is compensating landowners for any damages, but couldn’t provide “specifics” on the agreements.
There was also little to share on how long the cleanup would take, or when a months-long “no-fly zone” rule would be lifted to allow people to view the site of the spill.
“When I’ve inquired about it in the past, safety was a concern with the presence of those drones, but I do think there’s a need for transparency and accountability,” said Representative Lindsay Vaughn, a democrat from Overland Park.
Kansas Capitol Bureau has also asked to access the site since December, but the company declined the requests.
Lawmakers demanded answers to why the company has put the “no-fly zone” rule in place, and when it would be lifted.
“The reason that we’ve been able to have the effective response that we’ve had and be able to get to the point where we’re at 95% clean-up is that we’ve really contained the site to only the people that need to be there,” Salsman.
Salsman said the company has tried to limit distractions that could come with “flyovers and drones.”
“Our focus is entirely on the remediation of the site and the safety of those people working on the site. And it’s not really conducive to doing those activities, if you’re distracted with flyovers and drones and other things,” Salsman said.
U.S. regulators slapped restrictions on the pipeline last week, cutting the high operating pressure on a 1,220 mile-stretch of the pipeline, running through seven states.
The pipeline received a special permit six years ago to operate at higher-than-normal pressures. The new order from regulators directed TC Energy to lower the maximum pressure by 10% on the pipeline from North Dakota’s border with Canada to northern Oklahoma, as well as the system’s spur from southern Nebraska through Missouri into central Illinois. That would bring the maximum pressure into line with what’s normally allowed.
The pipeline was already ordered to reduce the pressure on a 96-mile segment of the pipeline from Southern Nebraska near the Kansas border into Central Kansas, where the spill occurred.