Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Bigger pipelines breed bigger disasters

The tar sands oil spill cleanup in Arkansas is ongoing, not that you're going to see it happen. There's apparently a media blackout in place so the only video is being surreptitiously captured by locals. But here's something new. It's quite possible taxpayers would end up paying for a major tar sands oil spill, say if the KXL pipeline was built and subsequently ruptured. And this is why:
Companies that transport oil are required to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, giving the government a pot of money for immediate spill responses. The Enbridge pipeline in Michigan and the Exxon pipeline in Arkansas, however, are exempt because these pipelines are not considered to be carrying “conventional oil,” despite the fact bitumen spills are more expensive and more dangerous.

In a January 2011 memorandum, the IRS determined that to generate revenues for the oil spill trust fund, Congress only intended to tax conventional crude, and not tar sands or other unconventional oils. This exemption remains to this day, even though the U.S. moves billions of gallons of tar sands crude through its pipeline system every year. The trust fund is liable for tar sands oil spill cleanups without collecting any revenue from tar sands transport. If the fund goes broke,the American taxpayer foots the cleanup bill.
And how could this happen you ask? As the saying goes, follow the money:
Connolly’s story highlights the clear effects of the revolving door of money from politicians and fossil fuel companies keeping the safety standards and oversight low. In 2009 and 2010 fossil fuel companies like Enbridge spent $25.8 million lobbying Congress and in return they received subsidies and tax loopholes worth $20.5 billion. That’s a 5,800 percent return on political investment; about $59 in return for each dollar they spend lobbying.
Just how cheaply our politicians can be bought never fails to astound. Least they could do is whore themselves out at high class call girl rates instead of a $5 hooker on lower 10th Avenue.

The frightening thing is we already have thousands of miles of pipelines carrying who knows what kind of toxic fuel all over the country.

[original larger graphic]

Tar sands oil shouldn't be exempt from the fund. They should be paying double considering tar sands crude is much more dangerous than conventional oil. As Charlie Pierce informs us:
One question central to the debate is whether this type of fuel is more corrosive than conventional crude. Fuel from Alberta's oil sands can pose a greater risk if it is transported at a higher temperature or under greater pressure, Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc., a Redmond, Washington-based pipeline safety consultant, said yesterday in a telephone interview. Operators using modern pipeline-safety techniques can manage the risks by cleaning out the line more frequently or carefully monitoring how the bitumen is diluted, he said. "You just don't write off the corrosion threat," he said. "You've got to be sure you're managing it."
[Insert sardonic laughter] As Charlie so perfectly put it:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't all this bitumen-diluting and frequent line-cleaning, to say nothing of "modern pipeline-safety techniques" as a whole, cost, you know, actual money to the oil companies and their ancillary business partners, who are on the whole greedy bastards who'd soak your white-haired granny in crude like she was a Louisiana pelican rather than spend an extra dime not to? Thought so.
Every major disaster I can recall was traced to cutting corners on safety and maintenence. And none of these "greedy bastards" are going to do more than minimally necessary to clean up their mess either. It seems one added hazard of the filthy tar sands crude is it's so heavy it doesn't float. It sinks to the bottom of waterways. Three years after the major spill in Michigan the oil corporation had to be ordered to do more dredging in the river they fouled. Which they'll probably fight in court while it continues to lie there and quietly poison the water.

Does anybody really want to trust these people with bigger pipelines able to do infinitely more damage? I don't.

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