Saturday, August 10, 2013

Months (and years) later, towns still cleaning up from pipeline accidents

Dan Frosch reports today for the NYT, from Marshall, Michigan (population 7,088) and Mayflower, Arkansas (population 1,631).  Both of those communities are still immersed in cleaning up pipeline spills, Marshall from a rupture three years ago and Mayflower from a spill this past March.  Enbridge Energy, based in Houston but owned by an Alberta company, owns the Michigan pipeline, while Exxon Mobil owns the one that ruptured in Arkansas.  Frosch reports:
Both pipeline companies have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to recover the heavy crude, similar to the product Keystone XL would carry. River and floodplain ecosystems have had to be restored, and neighborhoods are still being refurbished. Legal battles are being waged, and residents’ lives have been forever changed.
In May, the E.P.A. found that Enbridge had drastically underestimated the amount of oil under the surface of the river.  Enbridge has since brought in new dredge pads in an effort to get at as much as 180,000 gallons of oil still in the river.  Frosch quotes Stephen K. Hamilton, a professor of aquatic ecology at Michigan State University who is advising the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Michigan on the Marshall cleanup.
All oil spills are pretty ugly and not easy to clean up.  But this kind of an oil is even harder to clean up because of its tendency to stick to surfaces and its tendency to become submerged.
He also quotes Marshall real estate agent Matt Davis:  
Enbridge hopes people forget. But this is my town. This is where I grew up. Enbridge isn’t from around here. 
We didn’t ask for them to have their pipeline burst in our backyard. Make it right. Take care of the mess you made.
The story quotes other angry business owners, including one in close proximity to the dredge pad, who is suing Enbridge for disruption of his business. 

In Arkansas, 22 homes were evacuated following the spill of 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude on March 29, an event which "coat[ed] a residential street with oil" and displaced many residents.   Frosch describes the current scene:  
Now, four months later, the neighborhood of low-slung brick homes is largely deserted, a ghostly column of empty driveways and darkened windows, the silence broken only by the groan of heavy machinery pawing at the ground as remediation continues.
Exxon Mobil says it has spent $44 million on cleanup and $2 million on temporary housing for residents, but the state of Arkansas has sued the company, alleging that it did not immediately repair the spill and that the oil contaminated waterways.  

The story closes with this statement from a victim of the Marshall spill, 59-year-old Deb Miller who, with her husband, owned a carpet mill along the river before the spill:
They can try and beautify along the river, but they can never give us back all of our neighbors who have moved out.  There are not enough zeros to pay us for what we’ve been through.
P.S.  This report, on a spill--which the industry calls "seepage" and environmentalists call a "blow out"--at the tar sands project in Alberta appeared a few days after I wrote this post.  Ian Austen reports:
Until they find the source of the problem, oil continues to leak at four locations. The spill, modest by historical standards, is manageable for the company, which says it expects to spend $60 million on cleanup and investigation. But already the leak is spoiling the landscape and hurting wildlife. It has killed 71 frogs, 27 birds and 23 mammals, including two beavers, according to the company.
The process being used there is similar to hydraulic fracturing.

Other recent oil sands news is here (about a planned new pipeline to Canada's east coast, in light of uncertainty about Keystone XL).  And, while we're talking about disasters associated with oil sands exploration, we should not omit the train explosion that destroyed central Lac Megantic, Quebec in early July.  That train was carrying what the tar sands dredges up.  Read stories here, here and here.  

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