Of all the elections and ballot measures voted on around the country on Tuesday, perhaps the most egregious example of the fossil fuel industry’s money influencing an outcome was seen in South Portland, Maine.
Voters in the coastal city were deciding whether to approve a ballot item that would have essentially prevented the loading of tar sands crude onto ships in the South Portland harbor.
The proposed Waterfront Protection Ordinance, which appeared on the ballot after the Protect South Portland citizens group gathered enough signatures this past Spring, was voted down by less than 200 votes, out of 8,714 total votes cast.
In the months leading up to the vote, local residents were bombarded with media and direct mail campaigns opposing the ordinance. The week before the election, campaign finance reports revealed that the oil industry had pumped over $600,000 into ads and mailings opposing the measure.
The Save Our Working Waterfront campaign received most of its funding from big oil companies and industry groups like Citgo, Irving, and the American Petroleum Institute. A good chunk of the money raised - $123,427 to be exact - was used to hire the Maryland-based consultancy DDC Advocacy, which advertises its ability to organize online campaigns and “local grassroots” advocacy.
Contrast that $600,000 with the roughly $100,000 raised by the three local groups, including Protect South Portland, to support the ordinance.
According to Crystal Goodrich, who organized the door-to-door campaign efforts for Protect South Portland, the oil industry spent more per voter - about $32 per voter in this town of just 19,000 voters - than in even the most expensive elections across the country. “The oil industry bought this election at more than $135 per vote,” said Goodrich, calculating the cost for each “no” vote.
In Greek legend, everytime the winged horse Pegasus struck his hoof to the Earth, an “inspiring spring burst forth.” Unfortunately for residents in Mayflower, Arkansas, when the Pegasus pipeline ruptured, the only thing bursting forth was a nasty tar sands oil spill.
Here’s what you need to know about the spill, with links to some reporting on this awful event, which at very least ruined the holiday weekends of many Mayflower, Arkansas residents, many of whom didn’t even know the pipeline was running through their neighborhood.
The leak forced the shutdown of Enbridge's Line 14, a pipeline carrying 318,000 barrels of oil per day from Superior, Wisconsin to Mokena, Illinois.
Enbridge spokesman Graham White told the Chicago Tribune Friday that the spilled 37,000 gallons of crude were “contained within the tank berm,” causing little environmental impact. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is investigating the accident.
The Mokena spill is yet another incident in a long list of Enbridge operational failures that have severely weakened the company's public standing and professional reputation.
It was the most expensive pipeline oil spill in the country’s history, the fallout from which still plagues the local communities, and government investigators have found that it was entirely preventable.
On a midsummer evening in July of 2010, heavy crude started gushing from a 30-inch pipeline into Talmadge Creek, near Marshall, Michigan. By the next morning, heavy globs of oil soon were coating the Kalamazoo River, into which the Talmadge flows, and the stench of petroleum filled the air.
Enbridge, the Canadian company that owns and operates the ruptured pipeline 6B, made a lot of mistakes in the hours after the first gallons spilled. The disaster didn’t have to be so bad. Records of the official responses showed, for instance, that the company didn’t send someone to the site until the next morning. And that the Enbridge pipeline controllers increased pressure to the line, on a hunch that the funky signals they were getting was from a bubble, and not a spill.
When all was said and done, an estimated 1 million gallons of tar sands crude had leaked into the Kalamazoo River – ranked by the EPA as the largest spill in Midwestern history – with some oil flowing a full 40 miles down the river towards Lake Michigan.
Though the company that owns the pipeline, Enbridge, tried to deny it, the oil was soon revealed to be diluted bitumen (or DilBit), a form of tar sands crude that is thick and abrasive and can only be pumped through pipelines at enormously high pressure. DitBit is also, it turns out, much harder to clean up than regular old dirty crude. And that – the clean up – is where the story gets really complicated.
This week, OnEarth.org (where I’m also a blogger), published an incredible 3-part series about the Enbridge spill, the egregious mishandling of clean up efforts, and Enbridge’s deliberate cover-up of its shoddy, cheap, and reckless work. Written by Ted Genoways, who spent weeks on the ground in Michigan and accumulated over 100 hours of interviews, the piece is the sort of long form, old-fashioned, exhaustive muckraking that you don’t see nearly enough of these days.
In the heated Keystone XL debate, the Canadian company TransCanada, which is attempting to build the line, and the Koch brothers, who are throwing their considerable weight behind it in the interest of their Koch Industries’ subsidiaries, receive a lot of attention.
But there are other benefactors that are worth a closer look, as nobody stands to benefit as much in the longer term (if the Keystone XL pipeline is ever built) as the companies that operate the refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Let’s step back and review what the refineries actually do. The diluted tar sands bitumen (or “DilBit”) that would flow through Keystone XL is an ultra-acidic, highly viscous mess, that doesn’t at all resemble the refined petroleum products like diesel or gasoline or even jet fuel that are sold on the commercial markets. DilBit is, in the words of Keith Schneider, ”thick as peanut butter and more acidic, highly corrosive, and abrasive” than typical crude.
This tar sands DilBit needs to be refined before it can be sold. But only certain refineries are capable of handling the corrosive DilBit.
Refiners along the Texas Gulf Coast, where the Keystone XL pipeline would ultimately deliver tar sands DilBit from Canada, are eager to accomodate. The company that appears positioned to receive and refine more of TransCanada’s crude than anyone else is the Valero Energy Corporation(NYSE: VLO).
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.