The U.S. is a nation that gobbles energy, and the pressure to provide every city, town and individual with the power they need to keep things moving is admittedly great, however, citizens can no longer ignore the high cost of that energy. Oil pipeline safety is an expensive myth. It’s not measured in dollars and cents, but in poisoned water, destroyed ecosystems and rising global temperatures.
The protest against a new crude-oil pipeline in North Dakota is one way people are saying “Enough!” Proponents of dirty energy want consumers to believe highly toxic, highly combustible products like crude oil can be transported safely across hundreds or even thousands of miles if only we will allow the construction of more, newer pipelines. More pipelines mean fewer oil trains, they say; more pipelines mean fewer oil tankers on the interstates. Not only are these statements faulty, pipelines have never had a reputation for safety.
When Oil Pipeline Safety Fails
In 2015 alone, at least 40 incidences of explosions, ruptures, spills and other accidents were reported on U.S. soil. That’s not including accidents that occurred at offshore rigs or transportation catastrophes like the Exxon Valdez spill where 257,000 barrels of crude oil (think 17 Olympic-sized swimming pools) spilled into the ocean affecting 1,300 miles of shoreline and killing an estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, 300 harbor seals and unknowable billions of fish eggs and other form of ocean life.
January 17 2015: The Montana Department of Environmental Quality reports that approximately 40,000 gallons of crude oil, most of it from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, leaked into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, MT when a portion of the Poplar Pipeline (running from Canada to Baker, Montana) broke. Citizens of the town of Glendive, which uses the Yellowstone as its water source, were provided with truckloads of bottled water and advised not to drink the city water until a health threat was determined. Roughly 250 of the 42,000 barrels of leaked oil was recovered. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time the Yellowstone River was polluted with a hazardous oil spill. Some 63,000 gallons of oil gushed into the Yellowstone in July, 2011 when an Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptured. The company was made to pay $12 million in natural resource damages.
May 19, 2015: About 140,000 gallons of crude oil spilled onto Refugio State Beach and into the sea near Goleta, CA due to a break in the Plains All American Pipeline which carries 45,000-50,000 barrels per day of produced oil between the Canyon Processing Facility and the pumping station in Gaviota. The spill forced the closure of El Capitan and Refugio states beaches for several weeks. Hundreds of sea animals were found washed up on shore covered in crude oil. The year before, another Plains pipeline ruptured and spilled 19,000 gallons of crude oil into the streets of Atwater Village in Los Angeles. Plains All American Pipeline Company has at least 10 other serious incidents of oil pipeline safety failure, including three major accidents in Alberta, Canada.
April 17, 2016: A petroleum products pipeline failed in Wabash County, IL and spilled approximately 48,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the Wabash River. Despite the fact that the fuel also reached the Ohio River, the company responsible for the spill, Marathon Pipeline, assured residents there were “no air or water quality concerns” related to the incident.
October 21, 2016: In Lycoming County, PA a Sunoco pipeline ruptured and spilled approximately 55,000 gallons of gasoline into a creek that feeds the Susquehanna River. Fortunately for the municipalities that rely on the Susquehanna for their water supply, the river was high due to recent rains. The additional water diluted the spill and sample testing showed “gasoline compounds were within safe levels.” Despite that reassurance, customers were cautioned to reduce water use as much as they could. Coincidentally, Sunoco Logistics is the same company set to build the North Dakota pipeline which is currently being protested. According to an analysis by Reuters, Sunoco Logistics is responsible for more oil spills than any of its competitors. Sunoco pipelines have suffered more than 200 leaks in the past 6 years.
The activists protesting the build of another Sunoco pipeline in North Dakota understand the larger reaching impact of their actions. Oil is not the way to energy independence, and it is certainly not worth the risk of more toxic undrinkable water or greenhouse gases. New pipelines won’t make oil transport safer unless and until oil pipeline safety is as important as oil profits.