oil spill

Wed, 2011-11-30 18:17Brendan DeMelle
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Suncor Refinery Spill Threatens River Supplying Denver Drinking Water

Just another day in reckless energy land. A broken pipeline at the Commerce City refinery operated by tar sands producer Suncor appears to have leaked an “oily muck” into Sand Creek in Colorado.

The spill may pose a threat to Denver drinking water supplies, although luckily it appears to have been contained, according to some media accounts.

Reuters reports that:

“The Canadian energy firm said it had not yet identified the source of the leak, but acknowledged it was likely coming from its 93,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in the area. …

Sand Creek joins the South Platte River, a major source of drinking water for the Denver metropolitan area.

Suncor's Commerce City plant recently underwent a $540 million upgrade to enable it to handle more heavy oil sands crude from Canada.

NRDC's Switchboard blogger Anthony Swift reports that: 

The spill was discovered by a fisherman Sunday morning who saw sheen on the river and said the area smelled like a gas station. On Monday officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) arrived onsite and Suncor reported a leak. On Tuesday evening Suncor and EPA officials decided to dig a trench. This afternoon, EPA officials announced that three small booms erected on a bank of Sand Creek appear to be containing the oil and preventing further contamination.

The extent of the contamination is still unclear. If the leak involves tar sands diluted bitumen, the contamination could be more severe. Tar sands diluted bitumen spills are associated with significantly more submerged oil which cannot be contained by surface booms. Spill responders are still struggling to handle the submerged oil at Enbridge’s Kalamazoo oil spill. However, this spill shows the weakness in spill response and is yet another example of the very real risks inherent in tar sands infrastructure projects.

Update Dec 2: A DeSmog reader alerted us to this update today, which indicates that, if it weren't for the diligence of the unnamed fisherman, an Idaho man who read his blog, and the Denver Post's follow-up call to EPA, this spill might have spread farther thanks to an incompetent initial response by the state of Colorado. “It's not like the fisherman reported the spill and everyone jumped into action. The actual process is remarkable.” Indeed, remarkably scary.
“On Sunday morning, a fisherman reported the latest spill into Sand Creek and the South Platte after wading into the muck. The state relied on the Tri-County Health Department to check out the report, and Tri-County could not find an oil sheen on the water.
The fisherman wrote a blog post that was read by a man in Boise, Idaho, who left a voice message at The Denver Post. Post queries Monday included a check with an EPA duty officer. That officer dispatched Kimbel, who smelled and then found the mess and launched an EPA response Monday afternoon
.”
Thu, 2011-11-17 19:22Farron Cousins
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Brazilian Officials Investigating Chevron Oil Spill Off Coast

Law enforcement agencies in Brazil announced today that they would begin investigating the cause of an oil spill that occurred off the coast. Chevron's Frade Well off the coast of Brazil has been leaking for more than a week. From the start, Chevron tried to downplay the significance of the spill, suggesting it had natural causes, but Brazilian officials are now saying that Chevron did, in fact, cause an oil spill.

Mike G at The Understory lays out the story:

Brazil’s Federal Police agency has announced that it is investigating the spill, and said in a statement that those responsible could be facing up to 5 years in prison…After Chevron tried to blame it on natural seepage for a week, officials have confirmed that the oil spill off the Brazilian coast is in fact the result of Chevron’s operations at its Frade well.

Echoing last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and BP’s defensive and often misleading public communications during that disaster, Chevron has continuously downplayed and underestimated the amount of oil that has leaked out of their well (which, according to the company, was sealed today). The oil giant claims that the amount of oil leaked out of the Frade well was somewhere between 400 and 650 barrels of oil, with only about 65 barrels worth of oil remaining on the surface of the water after a week of natural dissipation and the application of chemical dispersants.

However, independent analyses performed by organizations tell a different story.

Tue, 2011-10-04 02:26Steve Horn
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Koch Brothers "Secret Sins" Exposed In Bloomberg News Investigation

Bloomberg has released a whopping 21-page investigative and historical essay on the many crimes of the infamous Koch Brothers, their company Koch Industries and its array of subsidiaries. The feature piece in Bloomberg Markets Magazine​'s November edition, the article is titled, “Koch Brothers Flout Law With Secret Iran Sales,” although the title is a bit of a misnomer – while part of the story, the Iran angle is but a small piece of it. 

Indeed, the article leaves any person with faith in the American legal system wondering, “How could these guys not possibly be locked up in prison?” A few stunning article highlights (or lowlights) show that it's not for lack of contemptible behavior, that's for certain:

Tue, 2011-09-27 16:56Farron Cousins
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BP Oil Dispersant Corexit Contained Cancer-Causing Agents

A new report on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster of 2010 is providing adequate cause for concern for residents and clean up workers along the Gulf Coast. The report from EarthJustice reveals that Corexit, the oil dispersant used by BP to aid in oil cleanup, is laden with cancer-causing chemicals.

The dispersant Corexit was dumped into the oil-stained waters of the Gulf of Mexico to help the oil coagulate and sink to the sea floor. Once the oil clumps reached the bottom, it was believed that they would disintegrate into the water, no longer posing a threat to marine life. But as EarthJustice’s report shows, the threat lingered.

An estimated 1.8 million gallons of Corexit were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to displace the 206 million gallons of oil that spewed from a broken well-head on the Gulf floor. And while the dispersant itself was ruled to be less toxic than the oil, the study suggests that the combination mixture of crude oil and dispersant poses a significantly greater threat to both the environment and marine life than either substance on its own. The EPA says that studies have been done on some of the 57 chemical agents found in dispersants, but they also acknowledge that no long term studies have been conducted on the exposure to these chemicals in quantities as large as were poured into the Gulf.

Fri, 2011-08-05 14:38TJ Scolnick
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U.N. Report On Niger Delta Calls For Billion Dollar Shell Oil Spill Clean-Up Fund

A new United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report [pdf] discussing the environmental destruction in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta wetlands calls out Shell, and says that the contamination warrants emergency action and an initial $1 billion clean-up fund to pay for a sweeping environmental restoration which may take 30 years to complete.


According to the UNEP, this is the most detailed scientific study to date on any part of the Niger Delta. The survey team spent 14 months completing the study which involved site visits to more than 200 locations, a survey of 122 km of pipeline, reviews of more than 5,000 medical records and public meetings with more than 23,000 locals.

The Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta is filled with creeks, swamps, waterways and huge reserves of oil which have enabled Nigeria to become the world’s eighth largest oil exporter. Decades of exploitation by national and international corporations like Shell, however, have destroyed the region’s land and freshwater supplies, and have left residents in poverty.

Thu, 2011-08-04 14:11TJ Scolnick
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Shell Agrees To Pay Nigerians For 2008 and 2009 Oil Spills

In a historic move, oil giant Shell has agreed to take responsibility and to compensate Bodo fishing communities in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta wetlands after their homes and livelihoods were ravaged by destructive oil spills in 2008 and 2009.

The case is also significant due to the fact that Shell will face the music at home, i.e. in a British court rather than one in Nigeria. Environmental advocates have long called for western oil companies to face their claimants on home soil in order to ensure more media coverage and a larger payout to the affected residents.

Martyn Day, speaking for the 69,000 Bodo, said they are seeking “adequate compensation immediately.” This will likely amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages paid to people living in the Niger Delta, a region severely affected by poverty. Shell will likely also face additional litigation in the future.

Fri, 2011-07-29 12:14Ben Jervey
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The Many Problems With Tar Sands Pipelines

Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill Kalamazoo River Michigan

Note: This post is part of an ongoing series about North American pipelines. For an introduction and links to the wide-ranging coverage–from safety to legal issues to the business and economics to vulnerabilities–see this regularly-updated intro post.

On Monday, the House passed a bill that would force the Obama administration to make a final decision on TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline by November 1. The Keystone XL project (which regular DeSmogBlog readers should be familiar with) would funnel tar sands oil from Alberta’s massive reserves down to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

This isn’t the place to discuss in too much depth the various and plentiful problems with Alberta tar sands itself – from extraction to transportation to refining to combustion, it’s the dirtiest oil on the planet. From a climate perspective, the Alberta tar sands contain enough carbon to lock the planet into climate chaos. In the words of NASA climatologist Jim Hansen, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.”

Because Keystone XL is so controversial, and because its construction could be such a tipping point in the climate fight, a broad and diverse coalition of scientists and activists are digging in their heels for a big fight, and planning a multi-week action at the White House. (Here’s more on how to get involved.)

But since this is a post about pipelines, I’m going to focus on how tar sands pipelines are different than those that carry conventional crude, how they’re much more prone to leaks and spills, and how those spills are particularly bad for the environment.

Sun, 2011-07-03 22:08Emma Pullman
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Creator of the Valdez Catastrophe, ExxonMobil, Tries to Downplay Yellowstone Spill

The ExxonMobil pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River in Laurel, Montana ruptured late Friday night, leaking 1,000 barrels of oil into the river. ExxonMobil estimates that approximately 160,000 litres of oil seeped into the river, one of the principal tributaries of the upper Missouri River. 

The spill has forced hudreds of evacuations, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that only a small fraction of the spilled oil is likely to be recovered. Its unclear how far the damage will extend along the river, but fishing and farming are likely to be impacted. 

Record rainfall in the last month has caused widespread flooding, and compromised spill cleanup efforts. While residents wait impatiently for the arrival of Exxon cleanup crews (who are only now arriving on site), Exxon is engaging in image control by trying to convince people that the spill is not as bad as it seems.

Fri, 2011-06-10 11:12Farron Cousins
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Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline Would Feature Woefully Inadequate Spill Detection System

According to the NRDC, the proposed $13 billion Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would not be able to detect “pinhole leaks” in the pipeline that release fewer than 700,000 gallons of tar sands oil a day. The company proposing to build the pipeline, TransCanada, has admitted that their leak detection system be unable to detect such leaks in real-time, meaning a small but powerful leak could continue for weeks before the company became aware of the problem.

What’s worse is that the proposed pipeline would run directly over the Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest underwater freshwater reserves in America, meaning that a pinhole leak could poison millions of gallons of water in an area that cannot be easily accessed, and that provides drinking water to millions of Americans.

Tue, 2011-05-31 23:36Emma Pullman
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TransCanada says Their Eleventh Leak Proves Keystone is Safe

UPDATE: The 1,600 figure we reported yesterday was an early and apparently erroneous estimate. The most recent figure, from The National Response Center, is closer to 8,000 litres. According to the Montreal Gazette, over 110,000 litres of oil have spilled along TransCanada’s Keystone line in the last year alone.

Today, TransCanada shut down its Keystone oil pipeline following its second pump station leak in less than a month. The most recent spill dumped nearly 1,600 litres of oil at a pumping station in Kansas over the weekend. With two spills in the last month, and ten more over the course of the last year, how can TransCanada convince U.S. authorities to trust the safety of its controversial expansion plans?  

As DeSmogBlog recently reported, spills are far more common than industry would have us realize. A 2007 report by the Alberta Energy Utilities Board recorded a whopping 5,000 pipeline spills between 1990 and 2005 in Alberta alone

The string of spills over the past year have only heightened public worries about the safety of North America’s vast pipeline network, and provide evidence that the proposed Keystone XL and Northern Gateway lines should be blocked.

The Montreal Gazette reports that over 110,000 litres of oil have spilled along TransCanada’s Keystone line in the last year.

To top it all off, TransCanada has somehow managed to spin its treacherous spill record and suggest - and you’re not going to believe this - that it’s doing a great job.

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