Two Tar Sands Bitumen Spills in One Week
As President Obama continues to ponder the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline (I’m sure it’s keeping him up at night!), this past week saw two significant spills of Alberta Tar Sands oil in the US.
The first spill occurred on Wednesday, March 27th. Fourteen cars (of a 94-car train) left the tracks, dumping 30,000 gallons (120,000 liters) of the gooey stuff. Apparently, tar sands bitumen shipment by rail has rapidly increased over the past three years as pipelines of the stuff are facing important public opposition. Interestingly, according to Reuters, this was the first major spill of the “modern North American crude-by-rail transition boom”. Makes you wonder: are pipelines really the safest way to move oil? Or is it simply the fastest (and hence the most profitable)?
The second spill occurred this past Friday, March 29th. This time, an underground pipeline belonging to Exxon Mobil leaked 10,000 barrels (that’s 1,6 million liters!) in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas. As a result, 22 homes had to be evacuated. The leaky pipeline can normally carry 90,000 barrels per day. Keystone XL would carry almost nine times that amount. Makes you wonder…
On an a side note, all of this occurred the same week that Exxon was fined $1.7 million for a pipeline that leaked 42,000 gallons (160,000 liters) in the Yellowstone Rive in 2011. This fine is pathetic in two ways. First, it works out to only $40 per gallon! Not bad considering the incalculable damage it must have done to the river ecosystem. Second, $1.7 million is less than half an hour of profits for the oil giant. So, we’ll call that a very week slap on the wrist.
For me, what all of this shows is that transporting oil, by which ever method you choose, is a dangerous process. You could argue that if the fines for spills were heavier, companies would have a greater incentive to make the pipelines (and trains) safer. However, as that is not likely to happen, we have to consider the fact that Tar Sands bitumen is not like other oils. The fact that it is heavier than water makes it extremely difficult to clean up. For proof of that, you only have to look to the state of Michigan. People there are still cleaning up the Kalamazoo River where more than a million gallons (4 million liters) of bitumen spilled back in July of 2010!
Just one more reason why we should all be against the Keystone XL pipeline.