Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station

Keystone pipeline oil spill clean-up continues in Kansas ranch, farm country

Fred Knapp / Nebraska Public Media
Bill and Chris Pannbacker ranch and farm near the massive oil spill that has impacted ground water and soil.

WITCHITA, KS – Bill and Chris Pannbacker welcome a visitor to their land, driving him him up a steep pasture hill, covered with rich brown carpet of prairie grass. But down below the hill, visible in the distance, sits a big black stain. That’s where the Keystone pipeline ruptured Wednesday night, spreading an estimated 14,000 barrels of oil over an area Bill reckons as at least an acre and a half. Chris, a reporter for the Advocate newspaper in nearby Marysville, says when she first got the news, she reacted analyticaly, as a reporter.

“I was in deadline mode when we got the call. But it got a lot more personal yesterday when we saw the blackness,” she said. Friday, when she finally stood right next to that blackness, her reaction became visceral.

“It’s just” – she began, sighing deeply, before adding, resignedly, “It is what it is.”

Meanwhile, Bill surveyed the damage, and reflected on recent history. He sold an easement to Transcanada, now TC Energy, to build the pipeline in 2009. He says people have become a lot more aware of climate change since then, but if they want oil, pipelines are still the way to go.

“Pipelines are as safe a way of transporting product like this as there is, even though we had one blow here. Trains derail and trucks have wrecks. It’s just a price we just have to accept, as a society, he said.

Still, Bill doesn’t relish being in the spotlight as cleanup takes place.

“Everybody says they have 15 minutes of fame. I hope this wasn’t my 15 minutes of fame right here,” he said.

It’s not immediately clear how long repairs and cleanup will take, but federal regulators say they’ll need a complete investigation and remedial work plan before allowing the pipeline to operate again.

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Rapid City, US
11:45 pm, December 6, 2023
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