As if we need­ed anoth­er reminder that the oil indus­try is a dirty industry…

An Exxon­Mo­bil pipeline run­ning under the Yel­low­stone Riv­er in south cen­tral Mon­tana rup­tured late Fri­day, spilling crude oil into the riv­er and forc­ing evacuations.

The pipeline burst about 10 miles west of Billings, coat­ing parts of the Yel­low­stone Riv­er that run past Lau­rel — a town of about 6,500 peo­ple down­stream from the rup­ture — with shiny patch­es of oil. Pre­cise­ly how much oil leaked into the riv­er was still unclear. But through­out the day Sat­ur­day, cleanup crews in Lau­rel worked to lessen the impact of the spill, lay­ing down absorbent sheets along the banks of the riv­er to mop up some of the escaped oil, and mea­sur­ing fumes to deter­mine the health threat.

Of course, Exxon­Mo­bil is very, very, very sor­ry about all of this.

EMP­Co deeply regrets this release and is work­ing hard with local emer­gency author­i­ties to mit­i­gate the impacts of this release on the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties and to the environment.

The release orig­i­nat­ed from a 12″ crude pipeline oper­at­ed by EMP­Co that runs from Sil­ver Tip to Billings. The pipeline has been shut down and the seg­ment where the release occurred has been iso­lat­ed. All appro­pri­ate state and fed­er­al author­i­ties have been alerted.

When a drilling rig blows up, when a pipeline bursts, or when a super­tanker runs aground due to a care­less crew, the ram­i­fi­ca­tions are incred­i­bly destruc­tive. We know because we’ve seen this hap­pen before. Some com­mu­ni­ties have trag­i­cal­ly expe­ri­enced the con­se­quences firsthand.

Each time a dis­as­ter hap­pens, the com­pa­ny respon­si­ble apol­o­gizes and promis­es to clean up its mess and com­pen­sate those affected.

Politi­cians vow to hold the com­pa­ny respon­si­ble account­able and press for tougher safe­ty reg­u­la­tions. But inevitably, none of this talk leads to a safer or clean­er indus­try. Because pre­ventable acci­dents keep happening.

Since humans make mis­takes, drilling (or min­ing) for fos­sil fuels is an inher­ent­ly unsafe busi­ness… a busi­ness that needs to be made illegal.

It is uncon­scionable that we as a coun­try are con­tin­u­ing to enter­tain pro­pos­als by greedy cor­po­ra­tions to blow up more moun­tains, despoil more Arc­tic wilder­ness with rigs, or con­t­a­m­i­nate more aquifers to get dirty fos­sil fuels out of the ground.

We’ve known for decades that oil is a finite resource, one that one last for­ev­er. We’ve known for decades that burn­ing it, along with coal and nat­ur­al gas, releas­es tox­ins into the air. We’ve known for decades that our depen­dence on for­eign oil is harm­ful to the secu­ri­ty and well-being of our country.

And yet, we have done next to noth­ing to tran­si­tion to a clean ener­gy future. There’s been plen­ty of talk, but it has­n’t been backed up with action.

Con­gress has made no seri­ous effort to use our mighty com­mon wealth to fur­ther the devel­op­ment of renew­able energy.

It has not even been able to redi­rect the mon­ey we cur­rent­ly just give away to oil com­pa­nies like Exxon­Mo­bil to renew­able ener­gy research.

What is stand­ing in the way of action? In their 2008 book Apol­lo’s Fire, Jay Inslee and Brack­en Hen­dricks offered the fol­low­ing answer.

The prob­lem is not inad­e­quate infor­ma­tion or insuf­fi­cient sci­en­tif­ic tal­ent. It is not even the relent­less obstruc­tion­ism of vest­ed inter­ests, though we can’t under­es­ti­mate the tenac­i­ty and clev­er­ness of the oil and auto­mo­tive indus­tries and the politi­cians indebt­ed to them. Rather, the prob­lem is an over­abun­dance of fear. Fear that we can­not solve the prob­lem. Fear that we can­not change the course we are on.

Peo­ple have a fine­ly devel­oped inabil­i­ty to ignore prob­lems — like the inevitabil­i­ty of our own death — that we believe we can do noth­ing about. Yet today, we do not have the lux­u­ry of igno­rance. Our shift to a deep and abid­ing hope must be ground­ed in our abil­i­ty to guide the forces of change for human bet­ter­ment, informed by the dan­gers we face but guid­ed by a belief in our own inno­v­a­tive potential.

When Barack Oba­ma won elec­tion to the pres­i­den­cy in 2008, many envi­ron­men­tal activists had high hopes that our back­wards ener­gy pol­i­cy would be reversed, and that con­ser­va­tion would be made a pri­or­i­ty. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion has endorsed plans for more drilling, rather than call­ing for an end to the fos­sil fuel indus­try’s end­less appetite for more projects, whether they be new off­shore rigs, pipelines, or refineries.

Pres­i­dent Oba­ma and his team had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reeval­u­ate their posi­tion in the after­math of the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon dis­as­ter, the worst human-caused envi­ron­men­tal calami­ty in the his­to­ry of the Unit­ed States. But the admin­is­tra­tion has still not reversed its posi­tion, even after its own oil spill com­mis­sion found that the dis­as­ter was caused by corner-cutting.

“The imme­di­ate caus­es of the Macon­do well blowout can be traced to a series of  iden­ti­fi­able mis­takes made by BP , Hal­libur­ton, and Transocean that reveal such sys­tem­at­ic fail­ures in risk man­age­ment that they place in doubt the safe­ty cul­ture of the entire indus­try,” wrote the com­mis­sion mem­bers in their final report.

What we want to know is, how can an inher­ent­ly risky, dirty indus­try com­prised of unac­count­able, mon­ey­mak­ing pri­vate gov­ern­ments have a safe­ty cul­ture to begin with? Com­pa­nies like Exxon­Mo­bil do not exist for any noble pur­pose (like improv­ing the human con­di­tion). They exist to make money.

So their pri­or­i­ty can’t be safe­ty. Legal­ly, their pri­or­i­ty has to be mak­ing as much mon­ey for their investors as they can.

As long as the fos­sil fuel indus­try con­tin­ues to oper­ate in this coun­try, we are going to be sub­ject­ed to more envi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters. The time has come for us to rec­og­nize that our ways are not sus­tain­able, and chan­nel our resources into the devel­op­ment of clean, safe, dis­trib­uted renew­able ener­gy. Only then will inci­dents like this begin to dis­ap­pear from our headlines.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Adjacent posts

6 replies on “ExxonMobil pipeline bursts in Montana, spilling crude oil into Yellowstone River”

  1. If you don’t like our poli­cies, then why don’t you go some­where where they have poli­cies that you DO like?

  2. With your com­ment: “Since humans make mis­takes, drilling (or min­ing) for fos­sil fuels is an inher­ent­ly unsafe busi­ness… a busi­ness that needs to be made ille­gal.”, You obvi­ous­ly do not under­stand the scope of the words you are using. 

    All fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies must be LICENSED/PERMITTED to do their drilling/mining activ­i­ties. NOW look up the def­i­n­i­tion of LICENSE. 

    “The per­mis­sion grant­ed by com­pe­tent author­i­ty to exer­cise a cer­tain priv­i­lege that, with­out such autho­riza­tion, would con­sti­tute an ille­gal act, a Tres­pass or a tort. The cer­tifi­cate or the doc­u­ment itself that con­fers per­mis­sion to engage in oth­er­wise pro­scribed conduct.”

    Drilling and Min­ing are ALREADY ILLEGAL — That’s why you need a license to do so!

    So if a COMPETENT AUTHORITY (Gov­ern­ment agency?} grant­ed the license, the lia­bil­i­ty ulti­mate­ly goes back to the gov­ern­men­tal CORPORATE agency that grant­ed the license in the first place!

    You MUST real­ize that it is one CORPORATION grant­i­ng a license to anoth­er CORPORATION. Cor­po­ra­tions serve on the cor­po­ra­tion. The peo­ple are left out of the equa­tion entirely!!


  3. Since humans make mis­takes, drilling (or min­ing) for fos­sil fuels is an inher­ent­ly unsafe busi­ness… a busi­ness that needs to be made illegal.

    OK, so let’s make EVERYTHING ille­gal where a human mis­take has been made.

    Good luck sur­viv­ing in that world. 

  4. “Since humans make mis­takes, drilling (or min­ing) for fos­sil fuels is an inher­ent­ly unsafe busi­ness… a busi­ness that needs to be made illegal.”

    Fine. I guess that means that you are will­ing to give up your cell phone, your inter­net, your newspapers/magazines, your access to gro­cery stores, your access to light­ing, your access to heating/air con­di­tion­ing, right?

    Because no mat­ter how much you may wish that it weren’t so, dirty dirty oil is used to pow­er the cars that take peo­ple to and from the facil­i­ties that allow you to access the ener­gy nec­es­sary to pow­er all of the mod­ern con­ve­niences that allow you to write a blog, rather than hav­ing to chop wood to heat your home, grow feed for your means of trans­porta­tion (hors­es), and grow your own food.

    Whether you like it or not, fos­sil fuels are the most cost-effi­cient method that man has found to pow­er his inno­va­tions. The Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion hap­pened pre­cise­ly BECAUSE of dis­cov­er­ies that were made that allowed man to har­ness that ener­gy, and your life is a lot bet­ter because of those innovations. 

    Believe me, if it were cheap­er and more effi­cient to use an alter­na­tive form of ener­gy, we would be using it by now.…

  5. So we stop drilling, We stop min­ing till it is 100% safe? We watch civ­i­liza­tion crum­ble? OK I don’t have a prob­lem with that. I will sim­ply ride my horse and kill off the first per­son that say it is cru­el to the horse. I will farm my prop­er­ty as “I” see fit and kill off the first idiot that decide they don’t like it. This is where the coun­try will end up and the vast major­i­ty of pro­gres­sives will die off in a gen­er­a­tion or two as most of them have no clue how to sur­vive with out some­one tak­ing care of them or their mod­ern con­ve­niences that drilling and min­ing provide.

Comments are closed.