The history of oil spills from pipelines around the world is more sordid than industry captains would have you believe. With the current debate about the Keystone XL pipeline raging on, two more major pipelines have spilled in just the last week, not only onto the beautiful tourist rich beaches of Thailand, but also the Trans Mountain Pipeline in British Columbia has been shut down after two spills in the last month. The recent spills suggest that we should not be asking if the XL pipeline will spill, but how often, and how much?
Koh Samet, and island in Thailand, had a mass exodus on Tuesday, July 30th, while workers in biohazard suits swarmed in to clean up the black slicks of petroleum. The mess was assisted in cleanup by a spraying of chemical dispersants. The pipeline leak released 50,000 liters of crude oil and was the fourth major spill in Thailand. The island depends heavily on tourism and officials worry about the economic impact of the spill.
Meanwhile, a hundred miles east of Vancouver, Canada, a crack in the Trans Mountain Pipeline ceased the moving of oil from Alberta to the west coast for export. Another oil company reported in Alberta the same week that over 2 million gallons of water had been contaminated by yet another spill. The spill that shut the pipeline down was the latest in a series of several others, although the oil companies have not disclosed how much oil has been leaked. Spills in North America have increased this year due to ramped up production from shale oil in the United States.
Every year, an average of 40 million gallons of oil are spilled, and as production increases so will contamination. The Keystone XL Pipeline will carry anywhere from six to ten time the volume of oil as most pipelines at a time, making an even bigger increase in risk. While most spills are attributed to equipment failure and corrosion, one in ten oil accidents can be blamed on human error. More attention must be given to the price being paid for our economic advancement.