Friday, April 12, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #103 - Part 5

Keystone XL and Arkansas

On March 27, a southbound Canadian Pacific Railway train carrying Canadian oil derailed near the town of Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, about 150 miles northwest of Minneapolis, spilling about 15,000 gallons of tar-sands. I've talked about tar sands before; it's this thick, tarry, oil-bearing sludge that the Keystone XL pipeline, if built, would carry from Alberta to refineries on the Texas coast to be refined and exported. It's so thick that it has to be cut with chemicals like benzene to thin it enough so that it can flow through pipes.

Supporters of building the Keystone XL pipeline argued that the derailment and spill showed the urgent need for the pipeline, because pipelines are supposed to be safer than train shipments.

Two days later, proving just how safe the pipelines are, this happened. An ExxonMobil pipeline carrying tar-sands oil beneath a suburban neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas, 20 miles northwest of Little Rock, burst, spewing, by current EPA estimate, nearly 300,000 gallons of the gunk onto streets and into yards and houses, many of whose occupants never even knew the pipeline was there.

ExxonMobil evacuated the neighborhood and quickly instated something like martial law, with either the cooperation or the passive acquiescence of the EPA. The corporation's flunkies evicted wildlife rescue workers, threatened reporters with arrest, and even won a temporary no-fly zone over the spill, with access controlled by a company agent.

ExxonMobil insists that none of the oil got into nearby Lake Conway, claiming it has placed barriers and 3,600 feet of boom around the lake. Aerial photos, however, show oil in marshes near the lake, and another photo shows dead vegetation in the lake. And state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel says there is oil in Lake Conway despite what ExxonMobil claims. Which is quite possible because tar sands oil, unlike plain crude oil, is a heavy sludge. It does not float. It sinks. So booms will do no good.

Oh, and here's an interesting sidebar: A 1980 federal law says that "diluted bitumen," known by the oh-so-cute abbreviation "dilbit" but in reality the tar sands going through the pipeline, is not oil. So companies such as ExxonMobil which are transporting it in pipelines do not have to pay into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is designed to help pay the cost of cleaning oil leaks.

So understand: According to federal law and the oil industry, oil oil is oil but tar sands oil is not oil. That is, this is oil. This is not. This bird is covered with oil. This bird is not. See?

Any pipeline poses risks, but tar sands pipelines pose even more risks than conventional oil, because tar sands must be pumped at higher pressures and temperatures than conventional oil so it corrodes pipes faster. TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline leaked 12 times in its first 12 months. When you consider that conventional oil was involved in 364 pipeline spills - about one a day - involving 54,000 barrels of oil in the US last year alone, the risk to the local environment as well as to the global environment due to global warming is just too high. Kill the Keystone XL pipeline.


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