Tar Sands Companies to Blame for Increasingly Common Hazardous Spills

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Three major oil companies—Kinder Morgan, TransCanada, and Enbridge—have been responsible for spilling a combined 63,000 barrels of hazardous materials since 2010, Tim Donaghy and Lawrence Carter reported for Greenpeace UK’s Unearthed. These three companies are currently involved in four controversial pipeline projects—including TransCanada’s Keystone XL project and Enbridge’s Line 3—that Donaghy and Carter described as “part of an effort to increase oil production from Canada’s tar sands, one of the dirtiest fossil fuel projects in the world.” As they reported, opponents of the projects—including 120 First Nations and Tribes—have opposed the projects due to greenhouse gas emissions that would result from increased tar sands production, and environmental and human rights concerns relating to the transport of tar sands oil.

According to the United States Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Kinder Morgan, TransCanada and Enbridge have been responsible for 373 spills over the past seven years, with 41 of these identified as “significant.” For crude oil, the PHMSA defines a spill of more than fifty barrels as significant. As Unearthed reported, long-term trend data maintained by PHMSA “shows that significant pipeline incidents have increased since 2007.”

Although a Kinder Morgan spokesperson told Unearthed that pipeline safety is the company’s “number one priority,” Donaghy and Carter’s report quoted Rueben George, the manager of the Tseil-Waututh Nation’s Sacred Trust Initiative.  “I’ve been to the Alberta tar sands and seen first hand the destruction that it causes, it’s devastating,” George told Unearthed. Referring to the Canadian government’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, George added: “They are breaking Tseil-Waututh law and that’s why we’re suing them.”

In November 2015, President Obama rejected a grant that would have allowed the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the Canada-United States border. A few days after President Trump took office, he reversed this decision by executive order, and in March 2017 the State Department issued a Presidential permit to TransCanada for the Keystone XL pipeline. As of August 2017, state regulators in Nebraska were conducting hearings to determine whether TransCanada’s proposed route through that state would serve the public interest. Members of Nebraska’s Public Service Commission could reject TransCanada’s plan or call on the company to reroute the pipeline.

Although the KeyStone XL pipeline and resistance to it has received significant corporate news coverage, as of September 24th, 2017, the corporate news media have not highlighted the record of hazardous spills by TransCanada, Kinder Morgan, and Enbridge, as reported by Unearthed.

Source: Tim Donaghy and Lawrence Carter, “Tar Sands Pipeline Companies Oversee Hundreds of Oil Spills,” Unearthed, September 8, 2017, https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2017/08/10/tar-sandspipeline-oil-spills/

Student Researchers: Chris Jorritsma and Ashley Carrillo (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)