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Another Day, Another Pipeline Spill

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Another Day, Another Pipeline Spill
Workers clean up a spill by Rover Pipeline affecting wetlands in Stark County, Ohio. Ohio EPA

By Joshua Axelrod

After months of protests and passionate pleas for the government to recognize and analyze the threats Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) could pose to fresh water resources and numerous others, news came this week that before even fully opening, the pipeline had already leaked.


A few states away, in Ohio, the same company's effort to build a natural gas pipeline has been put on hold after 18 leaks and a massive spill of drilling fluids into a pristine wetland convinced state and federal regulators to largely shut down the company's construction of the project. And even as this happens, we're facing similar threats as the Trump administration and TransCanada try to ram Keystone XL through America's heartland.

All of this feels like déjà vu. Back when Keystone 1 opened, for example, it experienced its first leak within months. A few years later, it experienced a major rupture in South Dakota, spilling at least 17,000 gallons of oil into a farmer's field. At the time, it was revealed that TransCanada, Keystone's owner and operator, had been warned about potential problems with the steel pipe it had used to build the line, as well as the welds holding the line together.

And DAPL isn't the only new oil pipeline rearing its ugly head and threatening our precious resources with the risk of an oil spill. Keystone XL has come back from the grave under President Trump and the State Department's rubber stamp cross-border permit. Enbridge is trying to expand its Alberta Clipper (Line 67) and Line 3 pipelines in Wisconsin and Minnesota. And the list goes on and on.

So why does this keep happening? The easy answer is: oil pipelines leak. They always have and they always will. They are complex projects that span thousands of miles and are held together by welds that commonly fail. They use materials sourced from manufacturers around the world that are almost always found to have anomalies. They carry substances that create conditions that can accelerate corrosion. They are impacted by external conditions like moisture and freezing and thawing and intense summer heat. All the technology in the world will not stop an oil pipeline from leaking. And what's worse, the best technology available today to detect a leak almost always fails to do so.

This week's leak is another example in a growing list that proves the concerns of Native Americans, farmers, ranchers and the public about the impacts these projects can have on water resources are real and pressing. For months, leaders from Standing Rock and elsewhere raised serious concerns about DAPL, its threat to water resources and the likelihood it would spill only to see those concerns not addressed by the current administration. Now, those same concerns are being ignored in the case of Keystone XL—which would cross one of the most important aquifers in the U.S.

America doesn't need new pipeline capacity to meet today's oil demand. And that underlying fact will only become more established as energy efficiency rises, vehicle electrification increases and renewable energy production grows.

Joshua Axelrod is a policy analyst for the Canada Project at Natural Resources Defense Council.

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An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

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