Another La. oil spill, another case of lying


With America about to make a big decision on the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, let’s revisit yet another recent major oil transportation fiasco, this time in my home state of Louisiana. As I mentioned here recently, Sunoco — the oil giant that is betting heavily on building new pipelines to accommodate America’s surge in oil and natural gas production — had to own up to a pipeline accident along some choice bayou wetlands near an important natural resource, Lake Caddo, near Shreveport.

Right away, the company’s news releases emphasized two points. First, Sunoco stressed that just 4,000 barrels spilled from the pipeline before it was shutdown — not an insignificant volume, but (to their thinking, anyway) not a catastrophic amount, especially when compared to the nightmare that Louisiana endured with BP’s mega-spill in 2010. Second, and this was even more important, the Pennsylvania-based oil giant said that containment efforts in the wetland area have been successful in keeping the spilled oil  away from Lake Caddo.

This past weekend, some environmentalist activists went out on the lake, which straddles the Louisiana border with Texas, to see the situation for themselves. You probably won’t be shocked by what they discovered:

The email contradicts Kathy DaSilva, an advocate with the anti-Keystone XL Pipeline group, Tar Sands Blockade, who with a colleague toured the waters off Hawley’s Arm last Wednesday.

“We decided to take a canoe out and see for ourselves,” DaSilva said. “We paddled about a half an hour. We started noticing a very, very heavy smell that was burning our nostrils.” The pair needed to wade at one point, DaSilva said, “and our legs got coated in oil. Very clearly, what we were seeing in the lake and on our skin was oil — despite the reports. It is entering from Tete Bayou. … We saw zero water bugs, we didn’t hear any frogs or see any life.”

DaSilva said she was frustrated that both federal and Louisiana environmental officials appeared to have taken Sunoco’s word that none of the crude reached Caddo Lake. Sunoco’s Mid-Valley Pipeline carries crude from Longview to Michigan.

The Tar Sands Blockade members shot still photography and video of what they saw. “It should not be up to citizens to get in and check up,” DaSilva said. “I was believing that (claim) myself, and I expected us to find nothing — and it was there. Anybody that wants to check up on this can just get a canoe.”

Of course, this won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s made it his or her business to investigate the environmental damage that oil companies cause. It’s actually quite normal for these giant corporations to callously issue public statements that have no bearing in reality. It’s also the case — and I noted this the other day — that the initial estimate of the damage is always too low. Check this out:

Sunoco Logistics has revised their estimate of how much oil has spilled in Mooringsport since a pipeline break in mid-October. 

As cleanup of the oil spill continues, the company now says about 4,500 barrels spilled along the Tete Bayou in Caddo Parish on October 13. That’s 500 barrels more than originally estimated. 

Yup. It’s a reminder of why we fight on the Keystone XL. Like the Sunoco pipeline, the Keystone would pass over critical watershed areas — but with even dirtier fuel, from the Canadian tar sands. Despite industry claims to the contrary, it seems as if no pipeline is immune from accidents and spills, sometimes major ones — and the federal government does not spend nearly enough on regulation or inspection. And as the spill at Caddo Lake makes clear, we certainly can’t trust the big energy companies that operate them.

Read the Longview News-Journal report on environmentalists finding spilled oil in Caddo Lake:

Read more about the higher estimates of spilled oil from the Sunoco pipeline here:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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