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Oil spill stock photo. Flickr

Offshore Oil Well Leaked for Months, Public Kept in Dark for a Year

Australia's oil regulator is refusing to disclose the location and the company behind a 10,500 liter leak of petroleum into the ocean last year.

An Australian offshore oil and gas well leaked continuously into surrounding waters for two months in 2016 but information about the discharge was only released this week in the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority's (NOPSEMA) annual offshore performance report.

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Texas Pipeline Spills 600,000 Gallons of Oil One Week Before DAPL Is Approved

By Steve Horn

On Jan. 30, 600,000 gallons (14,285 barrels) of oil spewed out of Enbridge's Seaway Pipeline in Blue Ridge, Texas, the second spill since the pipeline opened for business in mid-2016.

Seaway is half owned by Enbridge and serves as the final leg of a pipeline system DeSmogBlog has called the "Keystone XLClone," which carries mostly tar sands extracted from Alberta, Canada, across the U.S. at a rate of 400,000 barrels per day down to the Gulf of Mexico. Enbridge is an equity co-owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which received its final permit needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Feb. 7 to construct the pipeline across the Missouri River and construction has resumed.

The alignment of Native American tribes, environmentalists and others involved in the fight against Dakota Access have called themselves "water protectors," rather than "activists," out of concern that a pipeline spill could contaminate their drinking water source, the Missouri River.

Just Spewing

Brittany Clayton, who works at a nearby gas station in Blue Ridge, which is 50 miles from Dallas, Texas, was close to the scene of the spill when it occurred.

"You could just smell this oil smell. A customer walks in and says 'nobody smoke.' You could see it just spewing," Clayton told KDFW-TV, the local Fox News affiliate in the area. "It was just super huge. It was like a big cloud. The fire marshal said, 'This is like a danger zone. You guys have to evacuate immediately.' I was totally freaked out. I kept texting the boss man."

Enbridge and co-owner Enterprise Products Partners said in press release that the spill had been contained and it resumed service on Feb. 5.

"The incident … resulted in no fire or injuries and the pipeline has been shut down and isolated," the companies said. "Seaway has mobilized personnel and equipment to the site and is working closely with emergency responders, law enforcement and regulatory authorities to conduct clean-up operations and develop a plan to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible."

Government Reaction

According to KDFW, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intend to do water and environmental testing in the coming days. TxDOT also told the local National Public Radio affiliate, KETR-FM, that it would take "several weeks" to complete a full cleanup.

"It remains too early in the investigation to know where final blame lies for the accident," wrote KETR, also noting that "it is also too early to tell how much the cleanup and loss of product will cost."

TxDOT referred DeSmog to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for details on the spill, cleanup and related issues. We have reached out to TCEQ and will update the article as details come in and have also filed open records requests to learn more about the spill.

Chris Havey, Lieutenant Sheriff for the Collin County Sheriff's Office, confirmed with DeSmog that a spill investigation is ongoing under the umbrella of the EPA and the Texas Railroad Commission, which is the state's oil and gas regulatory agency.

"The Sheriff's office is not conducting any parallel investigation," said Havey. "As to whether or not the line has been shut off/capped, it's my understanding that within an hour after the line ruptured it was successfully shut off."

Neither the EPA Region 6 Office nor the Texas Railroad Commission responded to a request for comment. EPA, though, has been ordered not to speak to media by President Donald Trump's White House until the agency has a new administrator, likely nominee Scott Pruitt and senior-level staff in place.

As momentum and tensions alike mount surrounding oil and gas pipeline projects around the country, this oil spill is a reminder of the risks and consequences that come with them.

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Oil Pipeline Spills 53,000 Gallons on First Nations Land

An oil pipeline has leaked about 200,000 liters, or 52,834 gallons, of crude onto an aboriginal community in the oil-rich province of Saskatchewan, Canada.

This is the province's largest pipeline breach since July's disastrous 225,000 liter (59,438 gallon) Husky Energy Inc spill, in which some oil entered the North Saskatchewan River and cut off drinking water supply for two cities.

The latest spill happened on reserve lands of the Ocean Man First Nation. Ocean Man Chief Connie Big Eagle told Reuters that a local resident smelled the scent of oil for a week, located the spill and brought it to her attention on Friday.

While no homes were affected, the spill is about 400 meters (1,320 feet) from the local cemetery, Big Eagle said.

The Saskatchewan government was informed of the spill on late Friday afternoon, but the public was only notified of the spill on Monday.

Doug MacKnight, assistant deputy minister of the petroleum and natural gas division in the Economy Ministry, told reporters that the delayed announcement was due to the government not knowing the spill volume until Monday morning.

"At that point we felt it was prudent to let everyone know what we were up to," MacKnight said.

The pipeline was shut down after the breach was discovered. It is currently unclear how the leak happened or which company operates the underground pipeline that breached, as multiple pipelines operate around the site of the leak.

"There are a number of pipes in the area," McKnight said. "Until we excavate it, we won't know with 100-percent certainty which pipe." Excavation of the affected line is planned for Wednesday and will be sent for testing.

Tundra Energy Marketing Inc, which owns a pipeline near the spill, has been handling cleanup efforts since Saturday. As of Monday, 170,000 liters (44909 gallons) have been recovered.

According to the Regina Leader Post, the Ministry of Environment was notified of the spill on Friday afternoon, with the government saying it came from a Tundra-owned line.

Chief Big Eagle also told Retuers, "We have got to make sure that Tundra has done everything that they can to get our land back to the way it was. That can take years."

"They have assured me that they follow up and they don't leave ... until we are satisfied," she added.

MacKnight said that the oil spilled onto low-lying agricultural land that contains a frozen slough and did not enter any water sources such as creeks or streams. At this time, the spill has reportedly not affected air quality or wildlife.

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The Tesoro oil spill in North Dakota in 2013. Photo credit: Greenpeace

Massive North Dakota Oil Spill Still Not Cleaned Up 3 Years Later

In September 2013, a Tesoro Corp. pipeline ruptured in a wheat field near Tioga, North Dakota, spewing 840,000 gallons of fracked oil from the Bakken Shale, causing one of the biggest onshore oil spills in recent U.S. history. More than three years later, only a third of the spill has been recovered. To make matters worse, as the Associated Press reported, Tesoro has not even set a date for clean-up completion despite 'round-the-clock work to fix the break.

Cleaning up the spill will set Tesoro back an estimated $60 million. Crews have had to dig 50 feet underground to remove hundreds of thousands of tons of oil-tainted soil, North Dakota Health Department environmental scientist Bill Suess told the AP, adding that he worries that much of the oil may never be completely removed.

Critics of oil pipelines argue that spills are not just a question of "if" but "when." Spills are a common occurrence across the country. In fact, there have been more than 3,000 significant incidents since 2006, at a cost of $4.7 billion.

"The fact that crews are still trying to clean up Tesoro's spill from over three years ago shows just how unsafe these pipelines are," Greenpeace spokesperson Perry Wheeler told EcoWatch.

"There have been well over 200 significant spills across the country in 2016 alone, yet we continue to see fossil fuel companies downplay their impacts and rush them through approval processes," Wheeler added.

On Dec. 5, a pipeline operated by the Belle Fourche Pipeline Company leaked more than 170,000 gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Little Missouri River and into a hillside. The spill is significant because it occurred just 200 miles away from the Water Protectors' stand against the heavily contested Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

"What happened to us happened and we can't go back," Patty Jensen, who first discovered the Tesoro spill in 2013 on her farm, told the AP. "But I get really upset when I hear of a new one and I wonder what is being done to prevent these spills."

The oil industry also seems to think that pipeline spills are inevitable. Following the Tesoro break, North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness commented to KQCD, "You know, this is an industrial business and sometimes things happen and the companies are certainly responsible to take care of these things when they happen."

Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the DAPL, insists that their pipeline is safe. Compared to the Tesoro and Belfield pipelines made of 6-inch steel, the DAPL is made of 30-inch steel.

Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren said in an interview, "Our pipeline is very, very safe" and has vowed to move the pipeline's construction forward despite the Army Corps of Engineers officially denying the easement earlier this month, which is needed to complete the project.

The Army Corps' decision was a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux and for the Keep It in the Ground movement that urges a transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.

"The resistance we have seen at Standing Rock must be replicated across the country," Wheeler concluded. "There's no such thing as a safe pipeline. They will always jeopardize someone's land and water supply. We must keep the world's remaining fossil fuels in the ground and move quickly to clean energy."

The momentum towards sustainable energy will need as much support as it can get once President-elect Donald Trump is in office. Trump's pick to head the Department of Energy, former Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, is on the board of Energy Transfer Partners.

BP Platform Leaks Oil Into North Sea With No Plans to Clean It Up

About 95 metric tons of oil leaked into the North Sea on Sunday from BP's Clair platform, and it will be left in the ocean. BP says the oil is moving away from land and dispersing naturally, but the spill is a reminder that accidents happen as more oil development is eyed for the Arctic.

Oil slick visible from spill off BP Clair platform in the North Sea.Maritime and Coastguard Agency

In what BP called a "technical issue," oil was released into the North Sea, located about 46 miles, west of the Shetland Islands. BP shut down the oil rig and said it is investigating the accident.

The oil company said it had conducted five aerial surveys with three more planned for Tuesday to monitor the oil slick.

"It is considered that the most appropriate response remains to allow the oil to disperse naturally at sea, but contingencies for other action have been prepared and are available, if required," BP said.

In addition to Clair, BP operates the Quad204 facility in the North Sea, 108 miles west of Shetland, in a field that has been drilled since 1998. The North Sea has seen oil and gas extraction for decades, with about half of the estimated reserves having already been taken. Oil production peaked in 1999, but production has been on an upswing in recent years. A recent discovery off Norway, the Johan Sverdrup oil field, is expected to begin production in 2019.

According to energy consultancy Crystol Energy, "The Johan Sverdrup field is expected to be one of the most important industrial projects in Norway over the next 50 years."

Crystol Energy

From 2000 to 2011, there were 4,123 separate oil spills in the North Sea, according to an investigation by The Guardian. Oil companies were fined for just seven of them. No single fine was greater than about $25,000.

There have been a number of major oil spills in the North Sea—the largest of which was the 1977 Bravo blowout that released an estimated 80,000 to 126,000 barrels of oil. The well spewed oil for seven days. In 2011, Shell spilled more than 200 metric tons from the Gannet Alpha platform, and a 2007 mishap while a tanker was loading oil resulted in a spill of 4,000 metric tons, or about 25,000 barrels of oil. None of these spills were alleged to have any ecological impact, and all but the Bravo blowout were allowed to disperse, unchecked, by the sea.

As the Arctic Ocean warms, oil giants are eyeing the northern seas for more oil exploration and development. It is a dangerous environment in which to drill.

As Greenpeace stated, "The long history of oil spills around the world has made one thing clear: the only way to prevent an oil spill is to keep oil in the ground."

The Arctic lacks the infrastructure to stop, mitigate or clean up a major oil spill, or even to quickly aid workers on a damaged platform.

But that isn't stopping oil companies. Today, Caelus Energy boasted of a "world-class" discovery that could turn out to be one of the largest finds in Alaska. In a press release, Caelus CEO Jim Musselman called the find "really exciting" and the company said the Smith Bay complex could produce 200,000 barrels of oil per day.

"Without the state tax credit programs, none of this would've happened, and I'm not sure Caelus would've come to explore in Alaska," Musselman added.

In June, 400 scientists signed a letter urging President Obama to stop any further oil development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. A 2014 study found that the polar bear population in the Southern Beaufort Sea had dropped by an astounding 40 percent from 2001 to 2010.

"Accidents can and do happen, and in this extreme environment, the only truly safe approach to protect the unique and fragile Arctic offshore environment is no drilling whatsoever," Brad Ack, World Wildlife Fund's senior vice president for oceans, said in July.

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