Enbridge, under pressure for handling oil spills like the “Keystone Kops” according to a U.S. government agency, ran full-page ads this week boasting about a 99.999% safe delivery record. That may sound reassuring at first glance. Less reassuring is that this means that 19 million litres of oil have not been delivered safely – in other words have spilled – over the last decade. That’s almost half the amount of the Exxon Valdez disaster.
It’s no wonder the more people learn about pipelines, the less they want them. The fact is that pipelines spill. Oil spills pollute water and land and can make people sick. Enbridge pipelines have spilled more than 800 times over the last decade, the most recent one just two weeks ago in Wisconsin, where 1,000 barrels of oil spilled into a pasture.
The Wisconsin spill prompted the U.S. regulator to call that pipeline “hazardous to life, property and the environment” and to say that Enbridge’s safety program may be “inadequate”. This came on the heels of a scathing government report on an earlier, disastrous tar sands spill in Michigan, where Enbridge knew about the problem with the pipeline but failed to fix it. The U.S. government said the company behaved like “Keystone Kops.”
This growing body of evidence against Enbridge is more alarming when you consider that the substance they are shipping is becoming more dangerous over time. As tar sands production increases, more and more of the oil running through North America’s pipelines will be tar sands oil, which is more corrosive and creates a higher risk of spills.
And, when it does spill, it’s harder to clean up and causes more damage to the environment. Unlike normal oil, heavy tar sands sink to the bottom of rivers. Blobs of oil are still sitting at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan two years after that spill, and the clean-up has already cost forty times more per barrel of oil than usual oil spills. Nearly a billion, so far, and the job isn’t done.
The other thing is those leaky pipelines in the U.S. are about the same age and type as pipelines in Canada, particularly Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline which crosses Ontario. That would be the one that Environmental Defence found exposed in a river in Toronto—soon to be Canada’s first urban national park. They’ve known they have a problem there since 2009, and in response to media attention on the issue last week, have now said they’ll fix it in a couple of months.
So how many other problems exist along this pipeline’s route – which crosses many major rivers close to Lake Ontario? If we’d like to prevent pollution, it would be nice to know. Sooner, rather than later.
You can’t bury a problem nearly half the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster in fancy statistics in expensive ads. Given what we know about the company’s poor management from the U.S. oil spills, all Canadians should be wary about new pipeline plans, whether it’s to get tar sands oil across B.C. and Alberta or across Ontario and Quebec.