It has been a brutal week for the oil patch. For an industry desperate to paint itself green in the face of growing opposition to the environmental impacts of tar sands extraction and growing concern about global warming, this week has not ...
It has been a brutal week for the oil patch. For an industry desperate to paint itself green in the face of growing opposition to the environmental impacts of tar sands extraction and growing concern about global warming, this week has not helped earn the public’s trust.
It started last Monday when a frozen pipe carrying toxic waste from Suncor’s tar sands processing plant burst near Fort McMurray. The pipe leaked unnoticed for more than four hours, dumping thousands of litres of toxic waste into the Athabasca River. In what the Calgary Herald referred to as a “public relations disaster,” Suncor failed to properly inform the public of the specific dangers of the spill, referring to the waste only as “process affected water.” Experts familiar with tar sands operations indicate that this waste actually contains potent toxins such as cyanide, mercury or heavy metals, a serious threat to human health for communities downstream and the long-term health of the river. The public has since learned that this was not the first spill of its kind at the Suncor plant, a similar spill went unreported in 2011.
The week did not improve. Just two days later on March 27th, a CP train derailed
in Minnesota, spilling over 113,000 litres of crude oil. Already, many observers
were raising questions about the ability of the oil industry to operate safely.
On Friday things went out of the frying pan and into the fire when Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured
, sending more than 300,000 litres of tar sands crude oil cascading through the Arkansas suburb of Mayflower. Oil also seeped into the surrounding forests
, wetlands, and streams, making cleanup difficult. It turns out that the aging Pegasus pipeline had been recently reversed in order to ship tar sands oil, once again raising questions about the safety of shipping tar sands oil through pipelines that were not designed for it. In just a few days, a disturbing video
by a local resident showing oil flowing through the streets has garnered more than 2.4 million views.
And just when most oil executives had probably already decided it was safest to just stay home and hide under the blankets, another CP train
carrying crude oil derailed in White River, Ontario spilling more oil into the environment.
Perhaps, this was not the best week for the federal government to publically promote
TransCanada’s new proposal to use an old natural gas pipeline to carry tar sands crude oil to eastern Canada. Wouldn’t it be smarter to wait until after the project is independently reviewed to be sure that it would be safe for Canadians and our environment?
The headlines this past week are an important reminder; the oil industry has not demonstrated it has the ability to keep us safe from spills.