On pipeline day, Canada spill shows danger


Pipelines were the big national news story today. In Washington, President Trump — fulfilling his campaign promises on the fourth full day of his administration — signed two executive orders intended to re-start two major, stalled projects: The Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access pipeline. Both projects had been stopped during the presidency of Barack Obama, and with good reason. Environmentalists had complained that the two projects both crossed critical sources of drinking water such as the Missouri River and the Ogallala Aquifer, raising the risk of a devastating spill. What’s more, they pointed out that the construction of the projects would commit the United States to a future powered by fossil fuels, even as mounting evidence that climate change is already here demands a different approach. If that weren’t enough, the Dakota Access project also would desecrate Native American lands in North Dakota.

But President Trump insists that pipelines are the best pathway to U.S. energy independence. At the signing ceremony earlier today, Trump told reporters: “We’ll see if we can get that pipeline built. A lot of jobs.” He also said he’d push to renegotiate contracts to ensure that the pipelines are built with American steel. Needless to say, environmentalists and tribal groups are seeking to prevent the work from re-starting — either through legal action or through protests. Meanwhile, call it ironic but a major pipeline in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan — also passing through indigenous lands — offered up a reminder of what’s really at stake:

A pipeline in the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan has leaked 200,000 liters (52,834 gallons) of oil in an aboriginal community, the provincial government said on Monday.

The government was notified late in the afternoon on Friday, and 170,000 liters have since been recovered, said Doug McKnight, assistant deputy minister in the Ministry of the Economy, which regulates pipelines in Saskatchewan.

Oil pipelines are viewed by the oil-rich provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan as a critical lifeline to move crude to the coast, but they have drawn fierce opposition from environmental and indigenous groups. The spill came seven months after another major incident in Saskatchewan, in which a Husky Energy Inc pipeline leaked 225,000 liters into a major river and cut off the drinking water supply for two cities.

Like many pipeline spills, this one went on for a while before the environmental damage was detected:

She said an area resident who had smelled the scent of oil for a week located the spill and alerted her on Friday. The chief said there are no homes near the spill but it is about 400 meters (1,320 feet) from the local cemetery.” We have got to make sure that Tundra has done everything that they can to get our land back to the way it was. That can take years,” she said. “They have assured me that they follow up and they don’t leave … until we are satisfied.”

This is all so painfully familiar. As oil and natural-gas production has increased in North America, the energy companies and their defenders insist that this is the safest and most modern way to transport fossil fuel. The reality has been hundreds of spills — in streams and into major American rivers such as the Kalamazoo and the Yellowstone, on farm fields and into suburban-style subdivisions — and a complete lack of accountability. Now, the new president’s push for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access projects has raised the stakes dramatically. Given the tangled history of these two project, the only certainty is that this fight is far from over.

Read more about the major pipeline spill in Saskatchewan from CNBC: http://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/24/canada-oil-pipeline-spills-200000-liters-on-aboriginal-land.html

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2017 – All Rights Reserved

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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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