Federal Safety Agency Plays Pipeline Rupture Roulette
Only a small fraction of America’s vast network of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines has undergone any sort of inspection in recent years, including several hundred pipelines which have spilled or broken down, according to federal records displayed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the safety and reliability of much of this key but volatile transport grid remains unknown.
Records obtained from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the following:
- Of the more than 2.6 million oil, natural gas and propane pipeline miles regulated by PHMSA less than a fifth (583,692) has been inspected by federal or state officials since 2006.
- Another 132,300 miles has been inspected by their operators during that same period but PHMSA cannot say whether any industry inspections have been independently reviewed.
- Since 2006, there have been more than 300 incidents, such as a spill, explosion or breakdown, which triggered no follow-up inspection.
Despite these figures, PHMSA’s latest annual report on Nov. 30, 2012, to Congress on inspection and enforcement needs is less than one page long and mentions no need or even desire to increase inspections.
“At the current rate, most of our oil and gas pipeline network will not be inspected in this generation,” stated PEER Counsel Kathryn Douglass, noting that the present rate of less than one thousand federal and state inspections each year offers no hope of keeping pace. “Inspections are supposed to prevent damaging incidents but the main way pipeline deficiencies now become manifest is when ruptures or explosions make them obvious. This approach to pipeline safety is like searching for gas leaks with a lit candle.”
Nor is it clear that the causes of pipeline breakdowns are effectively remedied even after major spills or blasts occur. In the period since 2006, PHMSA recorded 3,599 incidents, defined as a release resulting in injury or death or major property losses, but took only 1,526 enforcement actions during the same period. Similarly, months following major pipeline disasters, PHMSA has yet to implement the vast majority of corrective measures recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.
“PHMSA is a sleepy, industry-dominated agency that tries to remain obscure by doing as little as possible,” Douglass added. “Its minimalist approach to pipeline regulation means several eco-catastrophes a year is business as usual.”
Approval of the Keystone XL, another massive pipeline project to transport tar sands from Canada to Texas, would put more pressure on PHMSA to perform. Many fear that spills from that pipeline, if approved, would create even bigger environmental headaches.
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
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