22 June 2012
ALBERTA OIL SPILLS
The U.S. and Canadian governments, TransCanada Corporation, and ConocoPhillips Oil Company are pushing hard for the construction of the Keystone Oil Pipeline ~ actually a pipeline system to transport synthetic crude oil and diluted bitumen from the Athabasca Oil Sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada to multiple destinations in the United States, including refineries in Illinois, the Cushing oil distribution hub in Oklahoma, and proposed connections to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas. All parties are at great pains to reassure the public that in spite of multiple oil spills on the Alaska Pipeline (see "incidents" section), the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and a long list of spills from oil facilities on land and from oil tankers .... that in spite of all the evidence, oil pipelines are reliable and safe.
Alas, events continue to demonstrate that, like nuclear power plants, oil facilities and pipelines are terribly far from safe. Two weeks ago, a part of the Canadian pipeline system in west-central Alberta ruptured, sending crude oil flowing into the Red Deer River system (see image above, click to enlarge). The force of the lateral oil geyser was so strong that it pushed the pipeline from its foundations. Since then, two more Alberta oil spills have occurred, one from a well and one from a pumping station. Coupled with a tarnished record which includes two pipeline failures a day in Alberta alone in 2010, one is hard put to keep a straight face when, in response to criticism from environmental groups, a spokesman from Alberta's regulatory Energy Resources Conservation Board commented, "Alberta has a fairly strong safety record of pipeline safety regardless of the recent incidents. I couldn't speculate on whether the province should or shouldn't call any sort of review of pipelines because I know our pipelines, at this point, we consider to be adequate."
"Fairly strong safety record"? "Adequate"? Am I the only one who is less than reassured by such luke-warm assessments? These people are trying to sell us not only on the Keystone Pipeline, but also on a similar project called the Northern Gateway Pipeline originating in British Columbia. They aren't seeing the forest for the trees ~ they aren't seeing the overall pattern of failure. In commenting on the Alberta spills, Alberta's Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resources Development (the word "development" is a dead giveaway) "said the recent spills are not necessarily cause for alarm, noting they happened in different parts of the province.
How quaint. I'm supposed to somehow feel safer because the spills are happening everywhere. That's like the captain of a sinking ship saying there's no cause for alarm, because the water is leaking into different parts of the ship. When are we going to get serious about clean energy alternatives? My guess is, when the oil companies say we can. They want to milk every drop of oil profit from the planet first.
The sad part is, the apathetic public will let them.