5 Reasons Why Oil and Water Don’t Mix for Wildlife

We all know that oil and water don’t mix. But the stakes are especially high for wildlife when oil spills into the lakes, streams and rivers where wildlife live.

Moose depend on clean water in rivers, streams and ponds, where they feed on aquatic plants.
Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Leah Serna.
If industry has its way, more tar sands oil – a nasty, tarry substance ripped from the productive evergreen forests of Canada – will run through pipes and on trains along some of America’s most valuable waters for wildlife.

The sad result will almost certainly be more tar sands spills, harming moose, waterfowl, great herons, river otters, and a host of other creatures. Here are some reasons we need to say no to tar sands oil:

  1. Oil Pipelines WILL Leak, Spill and Explode Into Waters

Despite industry claims that oil pipelines are safe, the facts speak otherwise. Oil pipelines leak, burst and rupture causing massive water contamination. In 2010, the nation’s largest inland oil spill ever occurred when an Enbridge-owned tar sands pipeline burst in Marshall, Michigan, coating large parts of a 40 mile section of the Kalamazoo River with heavy oil. In 2011, another pipeline burst in the Yellowstone River, sending at least 42,000 gallons down a 20-mile stretch of the river, sullying the banks and floodplains. Just this spring, a pipeline burst in Santa Barbara, California creating a nine-mile plume on the ocean that harmed otters, seals, shorebirds and other wildlife.

  1. Tar Sands Oil Can’t Be Fully Cleaned Up

While conventional oil floats on water, making it possible to skim large amounts off the surface, tar sands oil is sticky and heavy, and it sinks. It mixes with the bottom of the waterbody and stays there indefinitely. Despite repeated dredging attempts, after five years and over a billion dollars of clean-up expense, the Kalamazoo River is still polluted with oil. In short, tar sands is very expensive and nearly impossible to clean up.

  1. Tar Sands Oil Kills Wildlife and Destroys Habitat

The Kalamazoo spill coated and killed countless wildlife in Michigan. The spill killed many of birds, turtles and mammals it oiled.  In fact, a quarter of impacted birds died, and over 60% of small mammals affected perished. The spill also harmed fish eggs, and the tiny midges and flies that provide fish with food, upsetting the food chain.

  1. Oil Pipeline Safety Measures Are a JOKE, But No Laughing Matter for Waters and Wildlife

Pipeline safety regulation is severely lax and lacking. Federal rules allow pipeline companies to basically write their own safety plans with little review. Recent spills show how dire the situation is. In the Kalamazoo spill, it took the company 17 hours to detect the spill. 81% of the tar sands oil that spilled was pumped after the pipe burst. A 2013 tar sands spill in Arkansas occurred on an old line and officials suspect the line may have been too old and weak to handle its use. In the Santa Barbara spill, the pipe wall had been allowed to wear away to virtually nothing with little oversight.

  1. Tar Sands Expansion Plans Threaten Vital Waters

Despite major spills and extreme threats, industry wants to run more tar sands oil though places which will threaten the waters wildlife depend on. In Northern New England, industry is eyeing plans to run tar sands through and near waters that are important to moose and other wildlife – places like Victory Bog, Vermont, the Connecticut River and Sebago Lake, which supply 200,000 Mainers with drinking water. Industry is already seeking to expand tar sands transport near the Great Lakes and through the vital wetlands, streams and rivers of Northern Minnesota where moose, loons, wolves and other wildlife live. And there are also plans to bring train cars loaded with tar sands along the shores of Lake Champlain, a jewel of Northern New England and upstate New York.

river otters
River otters. ©Dimitry Azovtsev/Wikipedia
Thanks to support from wildlife advocates like you, National Wildlife Federation is working with affiliates and partners to stop these threats.

We are convincing municipalities to oppose tar sands expansion, advocating for stricter safety measures, and pushing for clean, renewable energy alternatives to get us off oil. We need energy investments that don’t threaten moose, loons, river otters and other wildlife with toxic spills that permanently destroy our rivers, wetlands, lakes and streams.

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