By Jeff Kazmierski, Copy Editor/Columnist
Just before Easter, an oil pipeline owned by Exxon-Mobil burst under the town of Mayflower, Ark., sending 5,000 barrels of oil spilling into the streets. The source of the leak has since been reported as a gash 20 feet long and two inches wide. This is only the most recent in a growing list of disastrous oil spills we’ve had to deal with in America in recent years.
In 2010, of course, we had the infamous Deepwater Horizon disaster, which sent billions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. Hundreds of miles of coastline were damaged, and the cleanup and litigation against BP continues to this day.
Later in 2010, a pipeline operated by a Canadian oil company burst in Michigan, poisoning the Kalamazoo river and causing millions of dollars in property damage. Spotty maintenance and poor regulatory oversight by the U.S. have been blamed for the incident. Cleanup crews are still working on cleaning up that mess as well.
In 2011, another pipeline owned by Exxon-Mobil burst near the Yellowstone river. Only 1500 barrels of oil were leaked in that spill, and the damage was quickly contained.
Of course, calling this latest disaster an “oil spill” is a bit of a misnomer. The stuff being carried by the pipeline wasn’t what we usually think of as oil; that is, the low-sulfur crude usually referred to as “light and sweet.” Rather, this was Canadian tar sands oil – heavy, bituminous stuff with a high sulfur content. The main problem with tar sands oil is that when it hits water, say a river or lake, it doesn’t behave like ordinary crude. Crude oil tends to float on the surface of water. Tar sands oil sinks, making cleanup much more difficult.
Add to that the fact that despite making record profits every year for the past decade, Exxon-Mobil apparently hasn’t done anything to improve its cleanup technology in at least 50 years. Independent footage has emerged showing oil-contaminated forests and lakes covered with white paper towels. This is apparently what passes for oil spill cleaning technology. This stuff has to be filmed independently, since Exxon has been barring journalists from covering the spill and has convinced the FAA to enact a 1000-foot “no fly zone” within five miles of the disaster site.
Please, go online and take a good long look at the pictures because this is the future that awaits Nebraska if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved. Toxic black gunk could soon blight your neighborhood, thanks to Rep. Lee Terry and Gov. Dave Heineman.
Pipelines have a lousy safety record. If recent history tells us anything, it’s that it’s not a matter of if, but when, one will burst. The Keystone XL’s capacity is estimated at half a million barrels per day of tar sands oil. That’s a lot of black gunk waiting to contaminate our ground water.
The Keystone XL’s proponents claim it will create jobs and enable energy independence. While I’m not sure about the latter, it’s pretty clear to me there will be plenty of jobs created. As long as you count jobs for cleanup crews, hazmat teams, oncologists, respiratory therapists, insurance adjusters and trial lawyers, I suppose they’re right.