Enbridge, Inc.: Spilling Oil All The Way To The Bank

You would think that sky-high gas prices would make Big Oil a little more careful with its product, but we’ve just learned about yet another big pipeline spill in Alberta, Canada. Enbridge, Inc., the giant corporation responsible for 2010’s record-setting accident that shut down the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, is now charged with a 61,000 gallon spill that is seeping into farmland near Elk Point.

A Great Blue Heron coated in tar sands oil in Enbridge's Kalamazoo River spill (photo: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality)
I’ve written a couple of posts recently taking a look at the industry’s track record, and I’m pretty sick of getting to say “I told you so.” This latest leak is the third in the province in a month but don’t expect any outrage from the Canadian government—Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet are militantly pro-oil and have spent the last few years re-writing the law books to boost industry profits. Life looks pretty rosy from their point of view:

Alberta’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development said the recent spills are not necessarily cause for alarm, noting they happened in different parts of the province.

The pipeline agency chimed in, saying it’s “confident its regulations are protective of public safety.” Nothing to see here, folks, just another friendly neighborhood Hazmat team trying to clean up toxic material in your rivers and farms!

Enbridge is doing its best to keep these accidents out of the spotlight:

[Enbridge] said as soon as it detected the leak, it notified civic authorities and other regulatory agencies. But Steve Upham, reeve [sheriff] of the County of St. Paul, where the pumping station is located, said as of Tuesday night he hadn’t received any notification. Upham said he was aware of the spill only through media reports.

“I don’t think anybody in the county, at this point, has been notified,” he said. Asked if he should have been contacted by Enbridge, Upham said: “I would have thought so. Or Alberta Environment, because they would be notified, I think. We’ve heard nothing from anybody.”

Industry Profits Despite System-Wide Failures

Sean Kheraj, an assistant professor at York University in Toronto, calculates that the oil and gas industry spilled over 7.3 million gallons in Alberta alone between 2006-2010. Since then, several major incidents have upped that number significantly, including a 1.1 million-gallon spill near Little Buffalo and two ruptures earlier this summer that totaled at least a quarter million gallons. In fact, a spokesman for Alberta’s energy regulator admits that the province’s pipelines averaged two failures per day in 2010.

But Enbridge has done well financially despite its inability to keep oil out of our environment; the company reported a 31% rise in revenue earlier this year. And it seeks an even bigger expansion in the near future, with plans to stretch its tar sands pipeline system to both coasts and covert intentions to send the corrosive sludge through New England. A tar sands spill in Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine could spell catastrophe for the northeast’s drinking water and wildlife habitat, and the threat has led groups like NWF to organize citizens against these proposals.

Meanwhile, other tar sands backers like TransCanada and the Koch brothers are leaning on their friends in Congress to speed up the pace of pipeline construction in the United States. More pipelines means more spills and more destruction of the Canadian boreal forest, but with hundreds of billions—even trillions—of dollars at stake, it’s no wonder that Big Oil is pushing these projects even in the face of system-wide trouble.

Take Action We need your help to protect wildlife at risk from oil spills and habitat loss in Alberta and across the continent! Speak up now to stop the spread of dangerous tar sands oil.