New La. oil spill is a danger warning on pipeline safety


The Big Oil folks who’ve been trying to cram a vast network of pipelines down the throats of the American people — including the massive Keystone XL project that would transport copious amounts of dirty tar sands oil from western Canada across the U.S. heartland to Gulf refineries, where a lot of it would be shipped abroad — have been preaching a gospel of safety. That sounds odd, given a recent run of pipeline-spill disasters from Arkansas — where thick bubbling crude coursed down a residential cul-de-sac just last year — to as far north as Michigan and Minnesota, and multiple points in between.

This story broke early last week right here in Louisiana, in the northern part of the state, and frankly I’m a little surprised at the lack of attention that it’s received from the national media so far. For a state that’s been shell-shocked in recent years by images of dead fish and soiled birds, the new reports that are coming out of a pipeline spill near Lake Caddo, in the vicinity of Shreveport, are most alarming, indeed.

Here’s the latest: 

MOORINGSPORT – A major crude oil spill discovered near here Monday that stopped just shy of Caddo Lake has already killed dozens of fish and some reptiles and will keep cleanup crews and regulatory agencies on site likely for months to come.

“I would call it a significant size spill,” Bill Rhotenberry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s federal on-scene coordinator said of the oil that leaked in a rural Caddo Parish bayou from a Mid-Valley Pipeline.

The pipeline’s owner, Sunoco Logistics, roughly estimated 4,000 barrels of crude oil had flowed into Tete Bayou when control operators noticed a drop in pressure around 8 a.m. Monday. The line, stretching 1,000 miles from Longview, Texas, to major oil refineries in Ohio and Michigan, was shut down within 20 minutes, Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said.

Shortly before noon, contractors searching from air and by foot tracked the source of the leak and began immediate efforts to stop if from getting into Caddo Lake. “That was a priority,” Shields said.

If the past is prologue, as we saw in 2013 with the Mayflower oil spill in Arkansas, the estimates of the amount of oil that was spilled will surely increase — and so will the tally of damage to wildlife. The fact that this happened along one of Louisana’s bayous, one of our most precious natural resources, only compounds the stench of tragedy — not to mention the fact that air emissions are almost always more noxious  than officials immediately let on. But the implications of Sunoco’s mishap here are broader than just the damage to yet another corner of a state that bills itself as the Sportsmen’s Paradise.

Sunoco is one of a number of Big Oil icons that is dramatically pushing to expand its network of pipelines across the continent, to deal with the ongoing surge in domestic oil and gas production. In Pennsylvania, for example, residents of the densely populated (and mostly affluent) suburbs west of Philadelphia are fighting with Sunoco over its proposal to re-purpose its aging Mariner East pipeline to transport natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region in the northern part of the state.

But as we’ve noted here in the past, the oil companies are not doing a very good job in maintaining their existing oil-and-gas pipeline infrastructure — despite the severe hazards of an accident. Almost equally as unpardonable, the federal regulators who are tasked with inspecting tens of thousands of miles of these often older, rusty pipes cross-crossing the nation are severely underfunded and understaffed. Despite this, the oil industry and its advocates are determined to convince the public that pipelines are the “safe” alternative to the recent flood of long-distance oil trains — and that this is the argument for why it’s imperative for the Obama administration to green-light the Keystone XL, as soon as possible.

To that, I say, let them come to Lake Caddo.

Check out the Shreveport Times coverage of the Lake Caddo oil spill:

Read the Philadelphia Inquirer on the Mariner East pipeline controversy:

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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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