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New Analysis Shows, There's No Safe Way to Transport Fossil Fuels

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New Analysis Shows, There's No Safe Way to Transport Fossil Fuels
Map of 373 U.S. hazardous liquids pipelines spills from 2010 to present for TransCanada (green), Kinder Morgan (purple) and Enbridge (blue). PHMSA / U.S. Energy Information Administration

By Ryan Schleeter

Despite industry claims to the contrary, history shows that there is simply no safe way to transport fossil fuels, and pipelines are no exception.


The rate and volume of pipeline spills in the U.S. has increased in recent years, with devastating consequences for communities and our environment. In the past decade, U.S. pipeline spills have led to 20 fatalities, 35 injuries, $2.6 billion in costs and more than 34 million gallons spilled. That's an average of 9,000 gallons of hazardous liquids spilled every single day for ten years.

And yet Donald Trump's pro-fossil fuel agenda means we could be facing a massive expansion of the U.S. pipeline network, including increased development in the Canadian tar sands. If that happens, it would be disastrous for the climate and violate the rights of tribes and First Nations on both sides of the border.

It would also mean more pipeline spills—lots of them.

Three companies—TransCanada, Kinder Morgan and Enbridge—want to build new pipelines to transport oil from the Canadian tar sands into the U.S. Together, they've seen 373 spills totaling 63,221 barrels of hazardous liquids since 2010.

Needless to say, this is a less than stellar track record.

Keystone XL builder TransCanada has by far the smallest U.S. pipeline network of the three, yet has still seen 13 spills in the last six years. Enbridge, which wants to expand its Line 3 pipeline through Minnesota and Wisconsin, has seen 147 spills. And Kinder Morgan, builder of the Trans Mountain pipeline in the Pacific Northwest, has seen 213 spills.

The largest of those was a massive spill from an Enbridge pipeline near Marshall, Michigan in 2010 that dumped more than 1 million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. Tar sands oil from the ruptured pipeline flowed freely for 17 hours and reached 40 miles downriver.

Tar sands oil spills are particularly hard to clean up because unlike crude oil, tar sands oil sinks in water.

If these companies—and others like them—are allowed to continue expanding the tar sands pipeline network, another Kalamazoo-sized spill is a very real threat. Given TransCanada's history, the Keystone XL pipeline could expect 59 significant spills in 50 years, while Enbridge's Line 3 Expansion would be expected to see 51 significant spills.

Our climate and communities cannot afford that. But there is a way to stop these pipelines from being built in the first place.

We know Trump is not going to step in to stop these projects; he already issued an executive order to "fast-track" the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines in January.

But he can't control the financial markets.

It's time to put the banks funding these dangerous pipelines on notice, starting with JPMorgan Chase. As the sixth-largest bank in the world—and one that publicly supported the Paris climate agreement—JPMorgan Chase has a responsibility to cut ties to this climate and human rights disaster.

Colette Pichon Battle, attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. Colette Pichon Battle

By Karen L. Smith-Janssen

Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.

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