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Two Years On, Tar Sands Spill Casts Long Shadow

ὤTṻnde΄ӂ 2012/03/10 02:37:01
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I was just watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and the subject of one segment was on a tar sands spill we've already had in the country. 20 months later, it's still isn't cleaned up. I believe we have to stop the Keystone XL because as much as they guarantee that they can handle any spills, they can't.

In addition, why did the republicans vote down the pipeline if they were forced to use U.S. steel and U.S. workers? This simply doesn't make sense.

http://fwd4.me/0wA0

Why do people treat this planet but especially our country so cavalierly? Do they really think there will be no consequences? I think there are some things that just aren't worth risking just to produce something we want to get off anyway.

Two Years On, Tar Sands Spill Casts Long Shadow










—By Tim McDonnell

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 3:00 AM PST
A cleanup crew member at the site of the Kalamazoo River spill in July 2010. mic stolz/Flickr

This week, as Senate Democrats narrowly defeated a renewed—and some say misguided—call to rush construction
of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, residents and officials at the site of
the country's largest-ever tar sands oil spill are still reeling nearly
two years after the fact. A look at the fallout from that incident in
Michigan reveals that a spill of diluted bitumen, the kind from
Alberta's tar sands that Keystone would carry, is a far nastier beast
than your typical spill of conventional crude. It also shows that
cleaning it up can be just as damaging to the environment as the spill
itself.


A story this week in the Canadian online magazine The Tyee
outlines how, 20 months after a pipe carrying tar sands "dil-bit" burst
on the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, residents and local Environmental
Protection Agency officials are still struggling to clean up the river. It was the first-ever major spill of this type of heavy oil, and it blindsided EPA cleanup crews: recovering the 1.2 million gallons of oil that have been cleaned up so far has cost the pipe's owner, Enbridge Energy Partners, roughly $725 million—10
times as much, per litre, as the average spill of conventional crude.
Ralph Dollhopf, who led the EPA's response to the incident, told local media that the agency had to "write the book" on dealing with a cleanup of tar sands bitumen.


The underlying issue, Natural Resources Defense Council attorney
Anthony Swift told me, is that US and Canadian officials don't know
just how different dil-bit is from conventional crude. With US imports
of tar sands bitumen projected
to shoot up to 1.5 million barrels per day by 2019 (up from 100,000
barrels in all of 2000), Swift said there remains a serious deficit in
US and Canadian officials' understanding of how to manage potential
spills. "The pipeline safety issue is just one of many areas where tar
sands production hasn't been fully evaluated," he said. That didn't
deter Alberta Premier Alison M. Redford from telling reporters
she was "very optimistic" that the Keystone pipeline, which would
likely be an economic windfall for her province, would be approved by
the Obama administration should the president win re-election.

When
conventional crude is spilled into water, it floats on the surface,
making the cleanup process a relatively simple matter of skimming and
scooping (you might recall images
of this from the Deepwater Horizon spill). But bitumen is thick and
heavy, and has to be diluted with a noxious chemical cocktail so it can
flow in the pipe. When spilled, the dilutant evaporates into the nearby
atmosphere; Marshall residents reported
nausea, migraines, and burning in the eyes and throat. Meanwhile, the
bitumen separates from the dilutant and sinks to the bottom.


"We want to make sure the cure is not worse than the disease."

"If you're a clam or a turtle, that's no good," Michigan State
ecology professor Steve Hamilton said. Hamilton works at a field
station near the spill site. He's concerned that the cleanup, which
involves "agitating" the riverbed (at least 200 acres of which were
contaminated) to bring oil globules to the surface for collection,
could be just as damaging as the toxic nature of the bitumen itself.
"We want to make sure the cure is not worse than the disease," he said.
Now, the cleanup crew is trying to decide whether they've reached a
point of diminishing returns: some oil may be left behind for the sake
of no longer disturbing the area.


Still, the local ecosystem was lucky, Hamilton said, because the
actual spill took place in a nearby marsh, which weeded out some of the
worst contamination before the oil reached the river proper. Had the
spill happened in a more open body of water—such as the Ogallala Aquifer
in Nebraska, through which the Keystone pipeline was originally destined
to pass—things could have been much worse. "We've got to make the
pipeline system more safe," Hamilton said. The Kalamazoo spill "clearly
shows the need for tight regulation of this industry."


Representatives from Enbridge, the burst pipe's owner, did not return calls for comment, but said in a statement on their website:
"Enbridge has always been safety and environmentally conscious and this
incident has provided learnings in many different areas of our
company, including pipeline inspections and preventive maintenance,
public awareness, and communications with emergency responders and the
community."


Back in December Congress called on pipeline regulatory agencies to
examine whether new regulations will be needed for pipes carrying
diluted bitumen, Swift said, but the future of dil-bit pipelines remains
as cloudy as the shaken-up bottom of the Kalamazoo River. "Kalamazoo
really points to the danger of moving forward with these projects
without understanding the risks," he said. "The last thing you want is
to find out you have a problem after the disaster has happened."












—By Tim McDonnell

| Fri Mar. 9, 2012 3:00 AM PST
A cleanup crew member at the site of the Kalamazoo River spill in July 2010. mic stolz/Flickr

This week, as Senate Democrats narrowly defeated a renewed—and some say misguided—call to rush construction
of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, residents and officials at the site of
the country's largest-ever tar sands oil spill are still reeling nearly
two years after the fact. A look at the fallout from that incident in
Michigan reveals that a spill of diluted bitumen, the kind from
Alberta's tar sands that Keystone would carry, is a far nastier beast
than your typical spill of conventional crude. It also shows that
cleaning it up can be just as damaging to the environment as the spill
itself.


A story this week in the Canadian online magazine The Tyee
outlines how, 20 months after a pipe carrying tar sands "dil-bit" burst
on the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, residents and local Environmental
Protection Agency officials are still struggling to clean up the river. It was the first-ever major spill of this type of heavy oil, and it blindsided EPA cleanup crews: recovering the 1.2 million gallons of oil that have been cleaned up so far has cost the pipe's owner, Enbridge Energy Partners, roughly $725 million—10
times as much, per litre, as the average spill of conventional crude.
Ralph Dollhopf, who led the EPA's response to the incident, told local media that the agency had to "write the book" on dealing with a cleanup of tar sands bitumen.


The underlying issue, Natural Resources Defense Council attorney
Anthony Swift told me, is that US and Canadian officials don't know
just how different dil-bit is from conventional crude. With US imports
of tar sands bitumen projected
to shoot up to 1.5 million barrels per day by 2019 (up from 100,000
barrels in all of 2000), Swift said there remains a serious deficit in
US and Canadian officials' understanding of how to manage potential
spills. "The pipeline safety issue is just one of many areas where tar
sands production hasn't been fully evaluated," he said. That didn't
deter Alberta Premier Alison M. Redford from telling reporters
she was "very optimistic" that the Keystone pipeline, which would
likely be an economic windfall for her province, would be approved by
the Obama administration should the president win re-election.

When
conventional crude is spilled into water, it floats on the surface,
making the cleanup process a relatively simple matter of skimming and
scooping (you might recall images
of this from the Deepwater Horizon spill). But bitumen is thick and
heavy, and has to be diluted with a noxious chemical cocktail so it can
flow in the pipe. When spilled, the dilutant evaporates into the nearby
atmosphere; Marshall residents reported
nausea, migraines, and burning in the eyes and throat. Meanwhile, the
bitumen separates from the dilutant and sinks to the bottom.


"We want to make sure the cure is not worse than the disease."

"If you're a clam or a turtle, that's no good," Michigan State
ecology professor Steve Hamilton said. Hamilton works at a field
station near the spill site. He's concerned that the cleanup, which
involves "agitating" the riverbed (at least 200 acres of which were
contaminated) to bring oil globules to the surface for collection,
could be just as damaging as the toxic nature of the bitumen itself.
"We want to make sure the cure is not worse than the disease," he said.
Now, the cleanup crew is trying to decide whether they've reached a
point of diminishing returns: some oil may be left behind for the sake
of no longer disturbing the area.


Still, the local ecosystem was lucky, Hamilton said, because the
actual spill took place in a nearby marsh, which weeded out some of the
worst contamination before the oil reached the river proper. Had the
spill happened in a more open body of water—such as the Ogallala Aquifer
in Nebraska, through which the Keystone pipeline was originally destined
to pass—things could have been much worse. "We've got to make the
pipeline system more safe," Hamilton said. The Kalamazoo spill "clearly
shows the need for tight regulation of this industry."


Representatives from Enbridge, the burst pipe's owner, did not return calls for comment, but said in a statement on their website:
"Enbridge has always been safety and environmentally conscious and this
incident has provided learnings in many different areas of our
company, including pipeline inspections and preventive maintenance,
public awareness, and communications with emergency responders and the
community."


Back in December Congress called on pipeline regulatory agencies to
examine whether new regulations will be needed for pipes carrying
diluted bitumen, Swift said, but the future of dil-bit pipelines remains
as cloudy as the shaken-up bottom of the Kalamazoo River. "Kalamazoo
really points to the danger of moving forward with these projects
without understanding the risks," he said. "The last thing you want is
to find out you have a problem after the disaster has happened."

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  • VoteOut 2012/03/10 03:57:23
    We, the government, should take a really long, long time to study how damagin...
    VoteOut
    Decreasing oil prices make tar sands not cost effective , increasing oil prices make it viable
  • RogerCoppock 2012/03/10 03:20:55
    We, the government, should take a really long, long time to study how damagin...
    RogerCoppock
    Good post!

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