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Pipeline Failures Plague Oil Companies, Erode Public Trust
By Emily Saari
Tar Sands Blockade. Creative Commons: Elizabeth Brossa, 2012
Pipeline safety is growing more difficult to prove, as oil companies struggle with failing infrastructure and persistent pollution issues from spills that should have been cleaned up long ago. News of pipeline failures are eroding public trust in oil companies to quickly and effectively control toxic spills, much less prevent them in the first place. These events add gravity to President Obama’s pending decision to allow Canadian company TransCanada to build a pipeline across the U.S. to carry highly corrosive tar sands oil from Montana to the Gulf of Mexico.
A huge pipeline failure in Zama City, Canada, on June 1, spilled 2.5 million gallons of toxic tar sands wastewater into the environment, in what some are calling the biggest wastewater spill in recent North American history. Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board, however, waited 11 days to issue a public statement reporting the spill’s occurrence, raising doubts about the adequacy of government regulation and transparency.
Locals believe that the wastewater leak might have originated even earlier than June. Dene Tha’ Councilman Sidney Chambaud told The Canadian Press:
There are indications that the spill occurred earlier, during the winter season, but due to ice and snow it wasn’t discovered.
The spill occurred near the territory of the Dene Tha’ First Nation, where the community lives, farms, fishes and hunts. Yet Houston-based Apache Corp. said in its press release that the spill posed “no risk to the public.” This contradicts a statement by Dene Tha’ Chief James Ahnassay reporting that the spill “seriously affected harvesting areas.”
The ExxonMobil pipeline spill in Arkansas on March 29 sent 84,000 gallons of heavy tar sands oil through a suburban community and continues to pollute waterways and contaminate the neighborhood months later, keeping many of the evacuated residents from returning to their homes.
On June 14, the state of Arkansas and the federal Department of Justice filed suit against ExxonMobil on the grounds that Exxon violated state and federal clean water and air laws, asserting that the company must do more to pay for clean-up costs.
This follows a class-action lawsuit filed by Arkansas residents in April demanding $5 million in damages from Exxon.
Exxon’s history of pipeline failures doesn’t bode well for future pipelines. Exxon was fined $1.7 million for a spill in 2011 that sent 62,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. In July 2010, a six-foot break in an Exxon pipeline near the Kalamazoo River in Michigan resulted in the largest on-land oil spill, and one of the costliest, in U.S. history.
Public Citizen, 2013
In Texas, newly laid pipes that could one day be part of the Keystone XL are being dug up and replaced for structural damage. Photographs from the sites by grassroots organization Bold Nebraska show pieces of pipe that have been spray-painted with the word “dent” and flags along the pipeline route that say “anomaly” and “weld.”
Landowners watching TransCanada retrace its steps to excavate and replace brand new pieces of pipe are increasingly suspicious of the integrity of the pipelines: “that it is not a matter of if, but a matter of when this line will leak.”
Michael Bishop, landowner in east Texas whose property is to be dug up once again to replace pieces of Keystone XL pipeline, said:
When the new segments are welded up, how can the public be assured that the work will not be a repeat of the shoddy, prior performance that has brought them back to our properties? If we were concerned about leaking before construction began, how can we have confidence in TransCanada at this point?
Landowners Against TransCanada, an organization formed to provide assistance to landowners in the U.S. to legally fight the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, launched a petition telling the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to perform its legal duties to protect human health and the environment, and immediately investigate the pipeline anomalies and stop further construction of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Julia Conley
Climate campaigners on Friday expressed hope that policymakers who are stalling on taking decisive climate action would reconsider their stance in light of new warnings from an unlikely source: two economists at J.P. Morgan Chase.
Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
- Is California heading for another drought? - Los Angeles Times ›
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