Oil Spills In North Dakota; Pipeline Explosion In Alabama

The Dakota Access protesters are meddlesome alarmists according to some people (especially Trump supporters). But the evidence is mounting that their fears about a possible breach of a pipeline under the Missouri are not overblown. In fact, they may be understated, as new information emerges about the danger of fossil fuel pipelines in America.

pipeline explosion

292 oil pipeline spills occurred in North Dakota between January 2012 and September 2013 but none was made public according to the Associated Press. The spills were treated as part of approximately 750 “oil field incidents.” “That’s news to us,” said Don Morrison, director of the Dakota Resource Council, an environmental group composed of local land owners. It counts more than 700 members in North Dakota. It is estimated that 4,328 barrels of were spilled during that period.

North Dakota officials say they are not trying to cover anything up. Lynn Helms, the director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources that they didn’t want the public to become “overwhelmed by little incidents.” In truth, many of the spills are quite small — under 25 barrels of oil.

But a pipeline owned by Tesoro Corporation burst on September 29 near the town of Tioga. For almost two weeks, no one knew about it. Officials say no water was contaminated and no wildlife injured but the spill was one of the largest in North Dakota’s history. Estimated at 20,600 barrels, the oil covered an area equal to seven football fields.

Local wheat farmer Louis Kuster said it is “absolutely important for us to know” about any spills that occur near land used for agriculture. He says one single spilled barrel oil has the potential to ruin acres and acres of farmland if it is spilled in a particularly dangerous place. “Right now, you don’t know if there is a spill unless you find it yourself,” says Kuster.

“What you don’t know, nobody is going to tell you,” he adds. Last month, Kuster and his neighbors noticed truckloads of oil-tainted dirt being hauled away from an adjacent farm. It was allegedly from a broken pipeline, but no one really knows for sure. “We have no idea how big the spill is and why it happened,” he said. “I’d try to get more information from the state but I’m too busy getting my harvest in.”

The news only gets worse. During the last weekend in October, a North Dakota oil well owned by Oasis Petroleum Inc blew out and leaked more than 67,000 gallons of crude oil. Oasis is trying to cap the well by pumping in a thick mixture of mud and clay, according to Counter Current News.

That is pretty much the same method tried to stop the leaking oil underneath the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The spilled oil is endangering a tributary of the Missouri River, according to Reuters. The cause of the blowout remains unknown, although state officials suspect it may have been caused by hydraulic fracturing of a nearby well in what is referred to in the industry as “communication” between wells.

As bad as the news is in North Dakota, at least no one has died from any of the spills. In Alabama Monday night, the same gasoline pipeline that ruptured earlier this year and allowed 250,000 gallons of gasoline to spill into the environment erupted in an explosion that killed one pipeline worker and injuring five others. The resulting fire burned 32 acres of nearby woodlands. Colonial Pipeline says the pipeline was struck by a backhoe working in the area.

Once again, America’s thirst for oil blinds everyone involved to the dangers of fossil fuel production and transportation. It’s all about profits and making sure Americans have access to cheap gasoline. The Native Americans protesting the Dakota Access pipeline are trying to alert us to the danger, but is anyone listening? While the president has expressed concerns about the pipeline under the Missouri River, the Obama administration this year quietly approved two new natural gas pipelines that will cross the the border into Mexico, according to US Uncut.

When it comes to the “Leave it in the ground” movement, the US government is a long way from lending its support. The only thing that will stop the flow of fossil fuels is the continuing decline of prices for renewable energy. Profit is the only god for the fossil fuel companies. That’s why proposals for a carbon fee like the one on the ballot in the state of Washington are so important. Shutting down the oil industry permanently means making it more expensive to burn fossil fuels than it is to use renewable energy.

Image credit: Twitter

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writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.