Trans Mountain Pipeline Spills up to 50,000 Gallons of Oil on Indigenous Land in BC
Canada's Trans Mountain pipeline spilled as many as 190,000 liters (approximately 50,193 gallons) of crude oil in Abbotsford, British Columbia (BC) Saturday, reinforcing concerns about the safety of the pipeline's planned expansion.
Chief Dalton Silver of the Sumas First Nation told CTV News that the spill occurred on his reserve on fields over an aquifer that supplies his nation with drinking water. It marks the fourth time in 15 years that the pipeline has spilled on his community's land.
Stop TMX: Devastating Trans Mountain Pipeline Spill Reinforces Urgency to Halt Further Expansion: “Trans Mountain p… https://t.co/ONHM3G30Ub— UBCIC (@UBCIC)1592159552.0
The spill occurred early Saturday morning at the pipeline's Sumas Pump Station, Trans Mountain told CBC News. The company said no construction work related to the pipeline's expansion was being done at the time of the spill.
Instead, the spill appeared to have been connected to a fitting on a smaller piece of pipe attached to the main line, the company said in a statement.
"The cause of the incident is under investigation and that will continue," company spokesperson Ali Hounsell told CTV News. "At this time, it's believed to be a failure of a small-diametre, one-inch piece of pipe."
The company estimated that between 940 to 1,195 barrels (or 150,000 to 190,000 liters) of oil was released and fully contained.
Update from Trans Mountain: Company estimates btwn 940 and 1195 barrels of oil was lost in spill at Sumas Pumping S… https://t.co/MU30LHnAEd— Ben Miljure (@Ben Miljure)1592167099.0
"Clean-up is well underway with trucks and crews working around the clock," the company said in a Sunday afternoon statement. "The free-standing oil has been recovered and is being transported to an approved facility for disposal. The site has permanent groundwater monitoring in place and air monitoring continues. Monitoring has not identified any risk to the public or community."
The pipeline was initially shut off in response to the spill, but restarted around 2 p.m. local time Sunday.
The company said it was working with local authorities and Indigenous communities on the clean-up, but Silver told CityNews 1130 he had not received timely, accurate updates about the amount spilled or the company's restarting plans.
"That they're up and running Sunday afternoon, my sister just read that to me off her phone. That was the first I heard of it, so there you go with the openness and transparency," Silver said. "I would really rather hear it from those at the incident command post."
Many Indigenous communities, environmental groups and the BC government oppose the expansion of the pipeline, which would triple the oil it carries from Alberta's tar sands to the Pacific coast. They are concerned about its impact on the climate crisis, Indigenous sovereignty, local water supplies and endangered orcas that would be harmed by increased tanker traffic.
Oil spills have also remained a persistent worry for pipeline opponents.
"We conducted our own assessment of Trans Mountain using leading science and Tsleil-Waututh's Indigenous law that concluded that oil spills are inevitable, can't be fully cleaned up, and have devastating effects," Chief Leah George-Wilson of Tsleil-Waututh Nation said in the UBCIC statement. "This most recent spill is another reminder that the risk is too great to accept. The Trans Mountain pipeline has already spilled more than 80 times since it began operating. This is why we continue to fight the Trans Mountain Expansion in the courts."
The BC Ministry of Environment told CBC News that Saturday's spill was "deeply concerning."
"Our government maintains that the TMX project poses unacceptable risks to our environment, our coast and our economy," the ministry in a statement.
Meanwhile, BC Indigenous communities pledged continuing opposition.
"The price of oil has plummeted due to decreased demand caused by COVID-19, and yet another pipeline spill is like a nail in the coffin for investors," UBCIC Vice President Chief Don Tom said in a statement. "The ongoing demonstrations across Turtle Island right now show that people are ready to stand up and defend their beliefs including upholding Indigenous Title and Rights. I have no doubt this will extend to the widespread opposition that already exists to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion."
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)