Today, emergency response teams in the gulf are torn between two disasters: the ongoing cleanup of the BP disaster and a new oil geyser spewing into the Gulf near Jefferson Parish, LA. In Michigan, teams are still working to contain a spill from a ruptured pipe that threatens the Kalamazoo River. Horrifying images are emerging from China, where an emergency worker nearly drowned in oil while working to contain a spill that now covers over 150 square miles off the coast of China.
At the same time as these pipelines are spewing toxic oil into bodies of water around the country and around the globe, the State Department has pushed back its decision on permitting the Keystone XL project, a huge pipeline carrying extraordinarily toxic tar sands oil from Canada down to the gulf coast. On its proposed 1700-mile path, this pipe crosses over numerous bodies of water and productive farmland, and, were a spill to occur, could contaminate the largest aquifer in the Great Plains.
This week, the EPA released comments on the project’s draft environmental impact statement, compiled by the State Department. In these comments, the EPA highlights the document’s inadequate consideration of pipeline safety and spill response issues.
Since tar sands oil by itself is too thick to be transported by pipeline, it must be diluted with a mixture of chemicals. The EPA notes that these chemicals “may negatively impact the efficacy of traditional floating oil spill response equipment or response strategies” and further criticizes the fact that the EIS “does not emphasize the primary effect of an oil spill, i.e., acute toxicity to the aquatic environment.” In addition, the EPA voices concern that the higher quantity of sulfur in all tar sands oil will result in increased corrosion of the pipeline walls, making a spill more likely to occur.
The EPA also faults the State Department’s report for failing to include an Emergency Response Plan. Given the oil industry’s recent track record of pipeline safety and their demonstrated lack of preparedness to deal with spills, it would be unconscionable to allow this pipeline, with all its additional environmental and safety concerns, to go forward without a comprehensive, publicly distributed Emergency Response Plan.
In making these comments, the EPA and Administrator Lisa Jackson stand as a model of government doing its job to respond to the risks of dirty fossil fuels to our environment and to our public health. The State Department, which has just announced that it will not make a final decision on the Keystone XL project until after a final Environmental Impact Statement is released, must address all of EPA’s concerns within the revised document. Any project that could cause yet another catastrophic, toxic spill is clearly not in our national interest.