Pipeline spills are not uncommon

Could a spill happen on the proposed Boone County pipeline? Yes.

This is not the first time an oil company has attempted to bring a pipeline from Canada down to Chicago. In 1997, one company was in a battle with groups in McHenry County over just such a plan.

The Environmental Defense Fund joined forces with such organizations as Communities Against the Pipeline and McHenry County Defenders to present their case before the Illinois Commerce Commission. The commission ultimately decided there was no need for another oil pipeline to serve Chicago-area refineries.

Now, years later, they are back. Back in 1997, they sought the power of eminent domain to run the pipeline across portions of private property. At that time, fears of serious pollution of the groundwater were cited. Those fears have not vanished.

As we reported last week, Enbridge Energy Partners wants to construct a pipeline from northeastern Alberta, Canada, to Wisconsin and down across several counties in northern Illinois to a pipeline terminal at Flanagan, where it will link with a pipeline from Chicago down to Wood River.

We have been assured that such a pipeline would be perfectly safe and present no hazard to the environment. That claim has been made previously, but nothing manmade is perfect.

In 2003, a pipeline section owned by Enbridge near Superior, Wis., developed a stress rupture. It dumped 2,500 barrels or 100,000 gallons of crude oil. Some 19,000 gallons spilled into the nearby Nemadji River. The leak shut down the process of transferring crude oil into holding tanks at the terminal for several hours.

Containment ponds, intended to catch oil leaks, overflowed, but the damage was limited because there was a 2-foot layer of ice on the river. Enbridge promptly cleaned up most of the oil. Officials said no oil got into the river water.

Part of the spill got into the Wisconsin River, but no damage was reported.

In July 2002, a 34-inch steel pipeline operated by Enbridge ruptured in a marsh west of Cohasset, Minn. Some 252,000 gallons of crude oil spilled out. The pipeline involved originates at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and ends at a terminal near Superior, Wis.

After instruments indicated a possible leak, crews were dispatched to check. They found crude oil leaking in a marsh near Blackwater Creek, and closed a valve to halt the flow of oil.

It was decided the best method to clean up the spill was to burn it off. About a dozen homes were evacuated, and the perimeter of the area was saturated with fire retardant. The spill was ignited, sending up a smoke plume 1 mile high and 5 miles long. The oil burned until 5 p.m. the following day.

Subsequently, inspection of the pipeline showed it had ruptured along a weld and widened out when pressure was applied to the pipeline to move the oil. The cost of cleaning up the spill and repairing the pipeline was estimated at $5.6 million. Enbridge had a smaller spill in 2000, but officials said the leak was restricted to the interior of the terminal.

Oil spills have been more common around the globe than oil companies would like us to realize. In 2002, Nigeria was the fifth-largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S. Between 1976 and 1996, 2.5 million barrels of oil spilled out in the Niger Delta—about 10 times more than the Exxon Valdez disaster. Oil spills there have been damaging to indigenous people. A series of spills from 1993-94 resulted in contagious diseases that killed 1,400 people, according to Oil Watch.org

On Russia’s Sakhalin Island, ExxonMobil has been in the forefront of oil and gas extraction. Exxon says the most economical way to get the crude and gas to Japan and China is by pipeline. Some of the world’s most pristine ecosystems are at risk as a result. Among them are fisheries that supply more than 60 percent of Russia’s annual catch. The fisheries employ 50,000 of the island’s 700,000 residents. Waters around the island are summer grounds for highly endangered grey and right whales. Oil drilling and pipelines already have reduced the fish, bird and animal populations on the island. The indigenous Nirkhi, one of three native groups, rely on these resources for survival.

In the Sudan, a major pipeline was finished in 1999. Christian Aid reported in 2001 that oil companies, to make way for development, were complicit in the killing or removal of tens of thousands of civilians living in the south of that country. The government of Sudan waged war on its own people, evicting them and leveling their villages. Crops were destroyed and humanitarian aid was refused. The government has made no effort to determine what amount of leakage has occurred from the pipeline, even though most of the southern Sudanese depend on the waters of the Nile for their own use and that of their livestock.

From the April 12-18, 2006, issue

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