As many people who watch the oil industry know, oil spills are not avoidable, preventable, or unlikely. From extraction to combustion, oil is a destructive and dirty business, based on sacrificing the health of environments and peoples for corporate profits.
This fact was especially evident last week, when Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline spilled over 150,000 gallons of toxic tar sands crude oil into Lake Conway and adjoining neighborhoods in Mayflower, Arkansas.
However, Exxon’s Mayflower spill is not an isolated incident. In fact, there were three other significant oil spills that occurred last week.
The spills, which were the result of both train derailments and pipeline ruptures, spilled many hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic crude oil in and around neighborhoods, marshes, and rivers.
March 26 - Train Derailment in Minnesota - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled
Last week's cacophony of oil industry irresponsibility began with a train derailment in Minnesota, which spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil. The oil was from Canada which has become a top exporter of crude to the United States because of their exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta.
In a fit of ill-timed opportunism, supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump tar sands oil from Canada to the gulf coast, used this this spill as a justification for building the tar sands pipeline. A spokesman for North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, who has been one of the chief political proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, had this to say:
"It should be clear that we need to move more oil by pipeline rather than by rail or truck...This is why we need the Keystone XL. Pipelines are both safe and efficient."
March, 29 - Lake Conoway, Arkansas - 156,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil spilled
In an incident that should make anyone question the "safety and efficiency" of oil pipelines, Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline spilled 157,000 gallons of tar sands crude into Lake Conway and surrounding neighborhoods in Arkansas. Since the spill, Exxon has limited press access to the spill site, oiled animals, and even the skies above the spill area. Exxon has even claimed that Lake Conway has been unaffected by the oil spill, though Arkansas Attorney General Dustin Mcdaniel has set that particular record straight.
"Of course there's oil in Lake Conway"
April, 3 - Houston, Texas - 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled
Four days after Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured and seven days after Keystone XL pipeline proponents claimed "pipelines are both safe and efficient," a Shell pipeline running through a bayou outside of Houston spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the Texas marsh. The actual amount of oil spilled by Shell's West Columbia Pipeline is still unknown, as the cause of the leak has not been released by Shell.
April, 3 - White River, Ontario - 16,642 gallons of crude oil spilled
At the same time that Shell was spewing oil into the wetlands of Texas, a train derailment in White River, Ontario was leaking oil in Canada. Most people know White River as the original home of Winnie the Pooh, but it is also a major train depot for shipping crude oil. The company responsible claimed that 4 barrels of oil were spilled, though the actual number turned out to be 10 times larger, at 400 barrels. That's 16,642 gallons of toxic crude oil. Sorry Winnie.
As the oil industry proved this week, they are incapable of protecting people and the environment from their product. As Micheal Brune of Sierra Club said:
"In Ontario, the company said it spilled four barrels when it had actually spilled 400. In Arkansas, Exxon learned about the spill from a homeowner but kept pumping tar sands crude into the neighborhood for 45 minutes, and is bullying reporters who want to tell the public what's going on. In Texas, a major oil spill came to light that Shell had been denying for days. Transporting toxic crude oil -- and tar sands in particular -- is inherently dangerous, more so because oil companies care about profit, not public safety. This is why Keystone XL, at nine times the size of the Arkansas Pegasus pipeline, must never be built.”
If built, the Keystone XL pipeline will spill. Stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
Sure seems like it. According to reports from the ground, Exxon is in full control of the response to the thousands of barrels of tar sands oil that began spilling from Exxon's ruptured pipeline in Arkansas last weekend. The skies above the spill has been deemed a no-fly zone, and all requests for aerial photos must be approved by Exxon’s own “aviation advisor” Tom Suhrhoff.
In addition, the entire area has been cordoned off and news media have been prevented from inspecting the spill zone.
Now, Exxon is trying to limit access to the animals impacted by the tar sands crude. A wildlife management company hired by Exxon has taken over all oiled wild animal care. The company, called Wildlife Response Services, is now refusing to release pictures and documentation of the animals in their care, unless they are authorized by Exxon’s public relations department.
The spill, which leaked heavy, viscous tar sands oil, emanates from the Pegasus Pipeline, which was built in the 1940’s. The pipeline pumps diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, just like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. However, the Pegasus is much smaller, carrying 90,000 barrels per day (BPD), while the Keystone would carry 800,000 BPD. Tar Sands oil is shipped through pipelines in the form of Diluted Bitumen (Dilbit), which must be heated and forced through the pipeline at high pressure. Due to the corrosive nature of the tar sands oil, which contains sand, plus the high temperature and high pressure needed to pump it through the pipes, tar sands oil pipelines are particularly dangerous.
Exxon’s control of the oil spill response is reminiscent of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, when the polluter, BP, effectively controlled the response and cleanup.
This year, the oil, gas and coal industries combined have spent more than $153 million on ads promoting fossil fuels and attacking renewables, according to the New York Times. That’s almost four times the amount spent on clean energy advertising in the same time frame.
It’s also a third more than was spent by the fossil fuels industries in 2008.
So what message is worth the record amounts of advertising dollars?
Well, as it turns out, the fossil fuel industries really don’t like regulation, the EPA, or president Obama, and they want the voting public behind them.
Though the dirty energy industries’ dislike of Obama seems a bit misplaced, (between allowing widespread fracking and his support of drilling offshore and in the arctic, Obama has given the fossil fuel lobby plenty) it does make sense that they would support Mitt Romney. After all, Romney is not concerned with “healing the planet,” and neither are the oil and coal corporations of America. It’s a natural fit.
However, the majority of the fossil fuel funded commercials are actually repeats of the same messages that the Big Coal and Big Oil have been trumpeting for years.
A recent Greenpeace investigation in to coal advertising over the last 40 years has found that the fear mongering and hysterical accusations made today by coal companies – that regulations kill jobs or coal can be “clean” for instance – are literally decades old.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal front group, has spent $12 million dollars so far this year on ads that, except for being in color and on youtube, could have been straight from 1970.
“The stakes are high,” said Steve Miller, the recently retired president of ACCCE. Well, hopefully Mr. Miller is high if he thinks people will buy the same tired deceptions that the coal industry has been threatening us with for years.
But first, a dose of climate reality:
In a recent study, scientists found that climate change will decrease the number of seasonal flowers, leading to an overall decrease in the number of butterflies, who rely on flowers for a sustainable source of energy - no destruction required. Another recent study found that climate change will increase the number of Lyme disease infected ticks, parasites that drill into their prey and extract their blood, leaving sickness and suffering in their wake.
It’s almost poetic that continued reliance on puncturing the earth and sucking out the oil will lead to more parasites puncturing and sucking us in return…
Speaking of bothersome pests - Senator James Inhofe, staunch global warming denier and human prune, went on the Rachel Maddow Show to discuss his new book, "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future."
During the interview, the good Senator from Oklahoma repeated his belief that a global conspiracy of environmentalists and scientists (and global temperature readings) are colluding to create the illusion of a changing climate, just to justify taxes.
See the left portion of this graphic for a summation of Inhofe’s climate views:
Though Inhofe has said ludicrous things about climate science many times before, he rarely mentions why he initially became such a zealous climate denier.
As he revealed in the interview, Inhofe became skeptical of climate science once he found out solving the looming climate crisis might cost money. In the interview he said “I thought it must be true until I found out what it cost.”
So, if Inhofe lets money dictate his policies, what does it mean that the top three contributors to his campaign are dirty energy companies (Koch industries being #1), or that he has taken well over $1 million from the fossil fuel industry since 1999?
Come on Inhofe, dont be such a tick.
We'll get to the encounter with Mr. Gerard below, but first, some context:
This particular meeting of the subcommittee exposed some of the more blatant absurdities that API and their oil funded buddies in Congress like to propagate. Take gas prices - Jack Gerard likes to say "we need more American energy," by which he means we need to open up every square inch of soil and water to oil and gas extraction. His argument is that gas prices would be lower if we sacrificed our land and investment capital to Big Oil's drill.
Luckily Congressman Edward Markey was there to point out how ridiculous it is to assume anything extracted by multinational oil corporations is "American." Once multinationals like BP and Exxon get oil from American sources, it becomes their oil, to sell on the open world market for the best price. The fact is, letting companies drill for oil on American soil won't result in any drop in price at the gas pump because the amount of oil American sources would produce is miniscule in comparison to the amount consumed globally. Allowing companies like Shell to drill off Alaskan shores or in other high-risk ways wouldn't save American consumers a dime, but would add many millions of dollars to Shell's bottom line. Gerard's refusal to acknowledge this belies a truth about API that he doesn't want the public to know - the American Petroleum Institute does not want to lower gas prices for Americans, API wants to increase the political power and profits of their member organizations.
That's why Rep. Markey suggested some more appropriate labels for Gerard's group than the American Petroleum Institute; like the "World Petroleum Institute" due to multinational members like BP and Shell who will sell oil from America to the highest bidder, the "Wall Street Petroleum Institute" because Gerard and API refuse to acknowledge the role speculation plays in driving up oil prices, or the "Caymen Islands Institute", because of API's dedicated defense of tax breaks, subsidies, and other loopholes which keep oil corporations from paying their fair share.
If Gerard meant it when he said "The more transparent the discussion, the better off we'll be," he would take one of Rep. Markey's suggestions. That way the American public would know that API's attacks blaming the president for high gas prices, repeated lies about Keystone XL's affect on gas prices, or blocking rules to protect air and water from the dangers of fracking are all part of an extensive dirty energy PR campaign.
Short of re-branding his organization, Jack could at least be transparent about the amount of oil industry money he is using to influence elections through the Vote 4 Energy ad campaign. The Vote 4 Energy campaign has blanketed cable television and much of Washington DC in misleading pro-drilling, pro-fracking propaganda in an attempt to further Big Oil's political agenda by misleading voters. API wants you to vote for ExxonMobil and Shell instead of yourself.
In spite of Mr. Gerard's lip service to "transparent discussion," when we repeatedly asked him how much oil money he is using to influence the upcoming election with Vote 4 Energy propaganda, he didn't want to be part of the discussion. If Mr. Gerard is so proud of the ad campaign, why won't he talk about how much of API's $200 million budget is going toward Vote 4 Energy?
Gerard photo credit: Houston Chronicle