Fans of the Keystone XL pipeline got some support during last night’s presidential debate, when Mitt Romney stated “I will bring in that pipeline from Canada.” Before the cheering starts, however, it might be a good idea to take a look over at the Kalamazoo River system in Michigan, where the aftereffects of a spill from another Canadian pipeline are still surfacing well over two years later. In a curious twist of timing, on the eve of the debate, the U.S. EPA announced that it had detected more evidence of submerged oil in parts of the river system and it has ordered the owner of that pipeline, Enbridge, to conduct additional new cleanup efforts.
Oil Sands, Pipelines, and Oil Spills
The Enbridge pipeline was conveying product from Canada’s oil sand fields, the same type that would supply the Keystone XL pipeline. According to Zack Coleman over at The Hill, environmentalists point out that the density of oil sands makes cleanup much harder than other kinds of petroleum spills, since its hydrocarbon can solidify and sink instead of being released into the air.
Here’s the incident as described by the U.S. EPA:
“On July 26, 2010, Enbridge reported that a 30-inch pipeline ruptured near Marshall, Michigan. Heavy rains caused the river to overtop existing dams and carried oil 30 miles downstream before the spill was contained. So far, oil spill response workers have collected over 1.1 million gallons of oil and almost 200,000 cubic yards of oil-contaminated sediment and debris from the Kalamazoo River system.”
On August 24, 2012, Enbridge formally notified EPA that cleanup was complete, but in its October 3 order to Enbridge, EPA stated that additional cleanup is still required, as three areas still “manifest sheen as a result of submerged oil accumulation.”
That’s not the only problem for Enbridge these days, as another of its pipelines ruptured in Grand Marsh, Wisconsin just last July. According to the Star Tribune, the federal government ordered the pipeline not to reopen, “citing a history of failures that suggests an inadequate safety program.”
Mitt Romney and the Keystone XL Pipeline
Transcanada, which owns the proposed Keystone XL project, doesn’t fare much better than Enbridge when it comes to its track record on oil spills. Though the company apparently has gained a long-term, reliable reputation in natural gas transportation, its relatively new transition to oil sands doesn’t bode well for the future.
The Natural Resources Defense Council provides a rundown of proposed Keystone XL safety features that appear to be at best inadequate, considering that the company’s newly constructed “state of the art” Keystone pipeline suffered twelve spills just last year, in its first year of operation.
The Obama Administration has asked for further review of Keystone XL because it would cut through sensitive lands in the Midwest. In addition, the product it carries would not ease prices in the U.S. oil market (it is intended for export), and it will create relatively few construction jobs along with a negligible number of permanent positions.
Nevertheless, this is the energy security and job creation project that presidential candidate Mitt Romney singled out for special urgency in last night’s debate.
Given the vast potential for far more beneficial and less risky energy projects for U.S. citizens in both the public and private sectors, it’s not clear why there is such a rush behind this particular project.
Without an explanation, Mr. Romney is left with the appearance of channeling a former Secretary of Defense who famously attempted to excuse the lack of adequate armor for troops in the rush to war with Iraq by stating that “you go to war with the army you have – not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
In the case of Keystone XL, we have all the time in the world. So again, what’s the rush?
Image: Enbridge oil spill courtesy of U.S. EPA.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.