McKibben: “Constantly and Disastrously” Leaking U.S. Pipelines Are the Mess in the Middle of the Keystone XL Debate

NY Times:  “Since 1990, more than 110 million gallons of mostly crude and petroleum products have spilled from the nation’s mainland pipeline network” [see figure, click to enlarge].

by Bill McKibben, in a DailyKos repost

Yesterday, the front page of the New York Times carried one of those stories that reminds you why it’s a good thing we have reporters.

Two weeks after a State Department report, speaking in the hermetically sealed tones of bureaucrats, predicted ‘minimal environmental impact’ from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the Times investigation found that in fact pipelines already crisscrossing America are leaking constantly and disastrously, that the federal agency assigned to protect them is so chronically understaffed, and that as a result they’ve left the “too much of the regulatory control in the hands of pipeline operators themselves.”

Not surprisingly, this  “self-regulation” works about as well as fox oversight of the poultry industry. For instance, in Michigan a 35-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River “once teeming with swimmers and boaters, remains closed nearly 14 months after an Enbridge Energy pipeline hemorrhaged 843,000 gallons of oil that will cost more than $500 million to clean up.”

And, “this summer, an Exxon Mobil pipeline carrying oil across Montana burst suddenly, soiling the swollen Yellowstone River with an estimated 42,000 gallons of crude just weeks after a company inspection and federal review had found nothing seriously wrong.”

These are the kind of concerns that caused the Republican governor and senator from Nebraska to last week demand that the White House refuse a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which will cross, among other features, the Sand Hills of the Cornhusker State, not to mention the Oglalla Aquifer.  And the pipeline will carry oil that’s actually hardly oil at all—in the words of the Times story,  what comes from the tar sands of Alberta is “a gritty mixture that includes bitumen, a crude drawn from Canadian oil sands that environmentalists argue is more corrosive and difficult to clean when spilled.”

The tarsands are a mess at their origin, where an area the size of European nations has been wantonly trashed to get at the oil, wrecking indigenous cultures and lives. They’re a mess at the end, when refineries will turn them into gasoline that, when burnt, carry enough carbon to, in the words of NASA’s James Hansen, mean “game over” for the climate.

But the Times story also makes painfully clear that they’re a mess in the middle. The good news is President Obama can stop them all by himself. We’ll find out before the year is out whether he listens more to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (an enthusiastic backer of the pipeline), or the front page of the New York Times. Whether, that is, he listens to money or to science.

by Bill McKibben of Tar Sands Action

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14 Responses to McKibben: “Constantly and Disastrously” Leaking U.S. Pipelines Are the Mess in the Middle of the Keystone XL Debate

  1. catman306 says:

    “in fact pipelines already crisscrossing America are leaking constantly and disastrously”

    Steel pipes buried in wet earth eventually rust and leak. Not rocket science. The only fix is to dig them up and replace them after so many years.

    Enough of temporary infrastructure sold as permanent infrastructure. It’s not.

  2. Joan Savage says:

    New York State law requires reporting within 2 hours of discovery of any spill that meets the following criteria:
    “Any intentional or unintentional action or omission resulting in the releasing, spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying or dumping of petroleum into the waters of the state or onto lands from which it might flow or drain into said waters, or into waters outside the jurisdiction of the state when damage may result to the lands, waters or natural resources within the jurisdiction of the state;..”

    The only exception is a spill that meets all the following criteria:
    The quantity is known to be less than 5 gallons; and
    The spill is contained and under the control of the spiller; and
    The spill has not and will not reach the State’s water or any land; and
    The spill is cleaned up within 2 hours of discovery.

    Enforcement is a big challenge in populous New York State even with alert citizen observers. Enforcement of similar laws in less populous states could be impossible.

    As with other “development,” I argue that if the regulations are unenforceable, the project should not proceed.

  3. Joan Savage says:

    BoldNebraska located a federal memo on state regulation of pipe lines.

  4. Todd says:

    There is only one way to solve this mess, and that is to use every means to reduce consumption of oil-based products, particularly gasoline, diesel and heating oil. Only then will the pipelines be decommissioned and removed from service. The USA could reduce its oil consumption within days or weeks by several million barrels a day easily by implementing very painless measures, and over the next 3-10 years, we could reduce oil consumption even more by strictly enforcing fuel efficiency standards (NO LOOPHOLES)in new cars, but ultimately, phasing in a whole new generation of electric vehicles. This will work, and we will be asking ourselves why we did not do it earlier.

  5. catman306 says:

    We won’t be asking our selves why, we’ll know the reason: Koch Brothers, Exxon Mobile and the American Petroleum Institute bought our legislators, news media, and educational system.
    Conservation is not part of the Conservative mime. Exploitation is a big part of the Conservative mime.

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    Where are the lawyers and local prosecutors? Laws are being broken, and punitive as well as physical damages must be paid.

    We already know that our politicians and media are corrupt. Apparently American courts have also become the places where justice goes to die.

    The lesson learned from the Exxon Valdez spill is that high powered lawyers know how to delay and deny restitution that belongs to people such as fishermen and oil spill workers. A $15 billion judgment somehow turned into $500 million, paid after thousands of victims had died. New York lawyers in $3000 suits defeated idealistic storefront attorneys from Seattle and Anchorage.

    An ambitious district attorney needs to run with this. He may not get elected to a high office in Nebraska or Texas, but a judgment that corresponds with oil spill damage could begin to effect change. The law, as soiled as it has become, is about all we have left.
    Our own government, in both parties, has embraced the dark side.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    A twist on the Boston Tea Party and exploitation:
    Koch Industries produce items that Americans use daily, wood and paper products, stretch fibers, carpeting, beef, minerals, fertilizer, as well as the obvious oil (list not comprehensive).

    Back in the 1770s, some Americans vowed to boycott British tea to protest taxes. The Americans were giving up a cultural favorite, and it was a very controversial to not be able to serve tea.
    Does it seem unlikely that 21st century Americans would give up some brands of elastic clothing, brands of paper towels and toilet paper, and so forth, just to make a point about the end-use of the profits? Nobody likes to feel exploited, but does freedom have to involve giving up Spandex? (I jest.)

  8. charlene chang says:

    “whether, that is, he listens to money or science.” and money looks like greed, selfishness, hegemony, cold-corrumption, and evil.

  9. Greg says:

    Since this represents only a 0.002% loss of what the US consumed during that time, is it really a crisis? Is this more or less (relatively) than the amount of rodent feces we have consumed in our breakfast cereal during the same period?

  10. Thank you Bill McKibben for your creativity and effort to create meaningful points for the climate concerned community to rally around. Keystone XL is a brilliant choice to focus on for many many reasons.

  11. Jeffrey Davis says:

    re: #6

    The issue isn’t the loss of oil. It’s the oil leaking into the water table.

  12. Lionel A says:

    Expect to see incidents like this across the US:

    Kenya fire: Nairobi pipeline blaze ‘kills at least 63’

    Richard Lindzen should be careful as to where he drops his cigarette buts.

  13. Michael says:

    What is not being emphasized enough, and actually has not even been in the conversation is that the development and use of these Alberta tar sands means the end of humanity and civilization. Not global warming, global roasting.

  14. John Stanley says:

    We can still comment on the “national interest” (not) of Keystone XL, until October 9th. “Help Hillary Decide” at this link –