By BARRY WEISLEDER
A U.S. government enquiry into the July 25, 2010, spill of 843,444 gallons of crude oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, by Canada’s Enbridge Inc., has fueled doubts about such proposed pipelines as Keystone XL and Northern Gateway.
Environmental groups on both sides of the border seized upon the findings of the National Transportation and Safety Board to argue against expansion of Alberta tar sands. NTSB Chair Debbie Hersman said Enbridge failed to adequately address well-known corrosion problems as far back as 2005.
The public was stunned to learn that the pipeline rupture in a wetland in Marshall, Mich., became much worse after an incredible 17-hour delay to stop the flow of oil. Clean-up efforts continue, with costs exceeding U.S. $767 million, not including the health impact on about 320 people who reported symptoms consistent with crude oil exposure. For this, Enbridge faces the prospect of a $3.7 million fine from the U.S. Department of Transportation—a mere slap on the wrist.
The real cost to Big Oil would be denial of approval of the Keystone XL line, backed by Calgary-based TransCanada, which U.S. President Barack Obama is stalling until after the November election. Keystone XL would deliver crude oil from the tar sands in Alberta to Texas, while Enbridge’s Northern Gateway would take crude from Alberta to northern British Columbia, where it would then be loaded on tankers for Asia.
The NTSB study faulted the contracting-out of pipeline defect detection, as well as poor regulatory oversight (giving too much authority to private companies to self-police), for the disastrous oil spill in Michigan.
In January, Enbridge opened a new “state of the art” Edmonton control centre, claiming it has incorporated lessons from its internal investigation into the Kalamazoo spill. But doubts persist, deepened by another Enbridge spill of 1000 barrels of oil in a Wisconsin field on July 27.
“How can we trust Enbridge to build two pipelines safely across nearly 800 rivers and streams in Alberta and British Columbia?” said Nikki Skuce, senior energy campaigner with ForestEthics. “Enbridge has the audacity to tell us that our coast will be safer with their oil supertankers travelling the treacherous waters off the northwest coast—this from a company who can’t even turn off a pipeline for 17 hours after an alarm goes off.”
“This should be the nail in the coffin for the Northern Gateway pipeline,” said Greenpeace Canada spokesperson Keith Stewart. Pete Erickson, hereditary chief of Nakazdli in British Columbia, thinks this ruling will give opponents of the Northern Gateway ammunition to stop Enbridge’s plan.
“The risk is far too, too high,” he said. “They come around and throw money at us. We tell them you don’t understand. We don’t believe you have the technology or the will to make this a safe project. There’s no way to do it.”
And even if the safe pipeline technology did exist, would it not be wiser to spend the money on green energy generation, rather than boiling oil out of tar sands and transporting it across continents and oceans? Given all the evidence of negative climate change, is it not urgent to wean the world off the burning of carbon?
At least two things should be perfectly clear by now. Profit will continue to trump environmental concerns so long as capitalism rules. And secondly, a mass action-oriented environmental movement, based on the working class, has the capacity to not only expose eco-crimes but to give birth to a better power.