TransCanada Corp. has shut its entire Keystone pipeline due to an oil spill at a Kansas pump station, the second shutdown of the line in the past month.
Roughly 10 barrels of oil spilled at the pump station on the weekend. The shutdown stopped the flow of roughly 480,000 barrels a day of crude from Alberta to refineries in Oklahoma and Illinois, marking the 11th spill in about a year.
Critics are pointing to a number of high-profile pipeline spills to persuade Canadian and American regulators that proposed lines such as Keystone XL to the Gulf Coast and Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway to a port in British Columbia should be blocked. TransCanada, however, argues that the location of its spills, as well as its response, highlight Keystone's advantages.
"We've demonstrated we have built a very safe pipeline system because we haven't had a leak on our pipeline," Terry Cunha, a spokesperson for TransCanada, said Tuesday. "Unfortunately what we're having is oil releases at our pump stations that have a lot of moving parts above ground and, unfortunately, some pieces of equipment ... break off and result in small quantities of oil being released on to our property."
A problem with a half-inch fitting at a pump station caused TransCanada's latest spill, Mr. Cunha said. The company is now inspecting half-inch fittings at 21 stations along the line. In May, Keystone sprung a leak because of problems with a three-quarter-inch fitting, prompting TransCanada to replace similar pieces at the line's pump stations. The pipeline has been operating for about a year and has had 11 spills at its pump stations.
"We are demonstrating that the pipeline system is safe by showing that our leak detection system is working as it is outlined to," Mr. Cunha said. TransCanada noticed the leak quickly, had the pipeline isolated in about 10 minutes, and shut down the entire system shortly after that, he said. "We have to kind of separate the two. All these incidents that we've had have never been on the pipeline. The pipeline is operating safely ... What we've had are incidents at our pump stations."
TransCanada was able to limit the spill to its property, he said. Most of the oil leaked on equipment and gravel, which is being removed and incinerated. A "small" amount touched grass, and TransCanada is cutting, bagging, and disposing of that, too, Mr. Cunha said.
Steven Paget, an analyst with First Energy Capital Corp. in Calgary, agrees that TransCanada's string of spills will not damage its chances of receiving regulatory approval to extend the Keystone line to refineries in the Gulf Coast. The United States' need for oil outstrips any minor harm the leak may cause, he said. Further, because Keystone is so new, quirks are expected.
"These are like little new car issues," he said.