January 31, 2013

Another View: Oil industry underplays danger of tar sands oil spills

Heavy crude that does not float creates a cleanup nightmare when it's spilled in water.

By Emily Figdor

I can only imagine the stunned and outraged looks on people's faces in Marshall, Mich., if they heard the oil industry's claims to the people of Maine about the safety of using an old oil pipeline that passes next to Sebago Lake to carry tar sands oil from Canada to Casco Bay for export ("Tar sands oil does not pose threat to local environment," Jan. 21).

In July 2010, an oil pipeline near Marshall, in the southwest part of the state, burst open, spilling more than a million gallons of tar sands oil. The oil ruptured in a wetland, gushed into a creek, and eventually contaminated a 35-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River.

The spill devastated the community -- people got sick, businesses closed, housing prices plummeted -- and to this day is still being cleaned up because the heavy tar sands sunk in the river, leaving the tools we use to clean up conventional oil spills, like booms and skimmers, practically useless.

It's the nation's largest inland oil spill and the most expensive, costing more than $800 million so far.

An independent government report concluded that the pipeline rupture was due in part to external corrosion combined with stress corrosion cracking -- problems that can result from the high heat and pressure variations of moving thick tar sands oil through a pipeline.

Amazingly, just 10 days before the Kalamazoo spill, Canadian oil giant Enbridge, the company responsible for the spill, told federal regulators it could remotely shut down a pipeline rupture in eight minutes; yet it took the company 17 hours to realize its pipeline had burst open.

I applaud the local officials from Bethel to South Portland who are taking action to protect their communities from a tar sands oil spill.

From Sebago Lake to Casco Bay, Maine has so much to lose and nothing to gain from this reckless project.

Emily Figdor of Portland is the director of Environment Maine.

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