[Cross posted from Green Mountain Daily]
:: Previously ::
A few years ago, while the press was providing non-stop coverage of the devastating explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, a less "exciting" pipeline spill happened in Michigan, garnering almost no coverage at all. The spill occurred in a stretch of pipeline that was first installed in 1950, which had previously run incident-free:
... At least 1 million gallons of oil blackened more than two miles of Talmadge Creek and almost 36 miles of the Kalamazoo River, and oil is still showing up 23 months later, as the cleanup continues. About 150 families have been permanently relocated and most of the tainted stretch of river between Marshall and Kalamazoo remained closed to the public until June 21.
The accident was triggered by a six-and-a-half foot tear in 6B, a 30-inch carbon steel pipeline operated by Enbridge Energy Partners...
The monitors detected benzene levels that ranged from below 50 parts per billion (ppb) to as high as 200 ppb. Some alarming spikes-6,250 ppb and even 10,000 ppb-showed up over patches of oil on the water and away from homes.
In that particular spill, Enbridge did not follow the protocols that were in place for spill response. When certain alarms sounded, they were supposed to stop the flow of oil in the line. Unfortunately, those alarms tend to sound fairly frequently, because a spill is not the only possible trigger - an air bubble in the pipe can also trigger the alarms. Since air bubbles are fairly common, the crews are accustomed to doing the exact opposite of what should be done in a spill: pump extra oil at higher pressure to try to push the bubble out of the line. You can guess what happens when you push extra oil at higher pressure into a pipe that has a 6 foot hole in it. If you're having trouble picturing it, there are 150 families in Michigan can tell you from personal experience; or perhaps this photo of the Kalamazoo river will help:
photo: (c) MIoilspill
That was in 2010, and they're still cleaning up the spill. 150 families lost their homes, animals are still being killed in certain areas by the thick "oil," and they are still trying to figure out how to remove the glop from the river bed. Unlike actual oil, the "oil" in a tar sands pipeline is actually "diluted bitumen" (more on that classification later), and diluted bitumen sinks. Oil floats. The equipment that exists for cleaning up oil spills is designed to deal with a substance that floats. It is useless against a substance that sinks.
:: Currently ::
But there are more recent examples. The past week has provided a tidy trio of oil spill news.
First, a train carrying tar sands "oil" derailed in Minnesota, spilling 15,000 - 30,000 gallons of the stuff (reports vary).
That spill gave encouragement to pipeline promoters, who claimed no such thing could happen with a pipeline, so KXL should be built post-haste!
Alas, a couple of days later, a stretch of Exxon's Mayflower pipeline burst under a residential neighborhood in Arkansas, dumping 10,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) into back yards, basements, storm drains, and now the local lake, once again putting the lie to the claims that long-extant pipelines are hazard-free.
In between last week's episodes of tar sands fun, Exxon Mobil was hit with a $1.7 million fine for having failed to shut down a pipeline near the Yellowstone river during a major flood event in 2011, despite government warnings that the severe flooding put the pipeline at risk of rupture. Exxon's decision resulted in 42,000 gallons of oil being dumped into the pristine (formerly, anyway) Yellowstone river when the raging flood waters caused the pipeline to break.
There are three key elements to note about pipelines and tar sands:
1) Pipelines work great until the moment they fail.
2) Tar sands spills are much more destructive and much harder to clean up than conventional oil.
3) Oil companies don't always do what they're supposed to do. Just for fun, here's another example.
This brings us to:
:: Today ::
There's nothing like ignorance when it comes to energy policy. And there's nothing like the Caledonian Record for providing examples.
In this morning's paper, the editor, Todd Smith, had these words of wisdom, regarding S.58, a bill passed by the Senate to require Act 250 review for new pipelines or changes to existing pipelines (other than repairs):
The bill targets an oil pipeline that has run quietly, since the 1940s, through a corner of the Northeast Kingdom. Theoretically it could be used to move Canadian tar sand oil but there are no plans, by anyone, to do so.
ed. note: no plans, sort of...
To be clear, the NEK pipeline has zero negative impact on Vermont and never will.
Those are Smith's actual words - "never will
." He's clearly a brilliant logician, saying, essentially:
Since nothing has gone wrong yet, nothing can ever go wrong.
Wow, that's awesome! I'm wondering if he might swing by my house and apply his "never go wrong" magic to my cars. I've had terrible luck - they'll run great for years, and then, one day, things start breaking and I find myself financing a new boat for my mechanic, until I reach the point where I'm either getting a new car, or the mechanic is upgrading to a yacht.
:: More after the jump ::