Massive Pipeline Spill Sickens Residents

NWF Says Health Impacts a Glaring Hole, Needs Study


In this Google image, one can see the Shell Peace River Complex which does in situ bitumen extraction. It feeds tar sands dilbit into the Rainbow pipeline at the Haig Lake Terminal, where it then travels south down the Rainbow pipeline to Edmonton. The Rainbow pipeline probably carries mostly conventional oil from NW Alberta, however, the spill occurred very near to where tar sands dilbit feeds into the pipeline.

About 28,000 barrels of oil spilled from a rupture of the Plains Midstream Canada Rainbow pipeline in Alberta last week. The spill is more than one-third larger than the Enbridge tar sands oil spill that fouled Michigan waterways in 2010.  Was it a tar sands spill?  The jury is still out, but it’s important to keep in mind Enbridge initially denied their spill was tar sands, and that claim was proven false.  One source said it may be a mixture of tar sands and conventional oil. A 2008 Reuters story says the pipe carries tar sands.

Area residents report smelling noxious fumes and falling ill; schools have closed for several days.  Similar health effects were reported by residents living near the Michigan spill. The Rainbow pipeline spill comes during the second round of environmental review by the U.S. State Department of a massive tar sands pipeline known as Keystone XL.  The negative health reports challenge Keystone XL pipeline builder TransCanada’s assertion that tar sands are no more harmful than conventional oil.

A joint press release from an area school principal, the chief of the Lubicon Free Nation and others asserts, “Little Buffalo community members, including school children, continue to experience nausea, burning eyes and headaches.” It was also reported that at least four beavers and 10 waterfowl were euthanized after they were found covered in oil.

Jim Lyon, senior vice president of National Wildlife Federation said:

“No U.S. government agency or independent medical source has adequately studied the risks of tar sands to human health and wildlife. This is a glaring hole in the State Department’s assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and one more reason to do additional study before Americans are forced to put this ticking time bomb under their land.”

A March report from conservation groups concluded the diluted bitumen (dilbit) is “a highly corrosive, acidic, and potentially unstable blend of thick raw bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate.” An April New York Times editorial echoed this point, which was dismissed by TransCanada, who in a response said “oil is oil.”

NWF wants to slow the rush to dirty fuels like tar sands.  You can help by writing to President Obama.  Take action now!

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Published: May 5, 2011