NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

ExxonMobil pipeline bursts in Montana, spilling crude oil into Yellowstone River

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.

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

    # by Gene Johnson :: July 4th, 2011 at 10:18 AM
  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!!


    # by Tom Welter :: July 4th, 2011 at 10:21 AM
  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.

    # by Tony S :: July 5th, 2011 at 10:29 AM
  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….

    # by Teresa in Fort Worth :: July 5th, 2011 at 10:56 AM
  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.

    # by Bill Canada :: July 5th, 2011 at 12:16 PM
  6. Well, why don’t we demand that they walk their talk?

    # by Gretchen Anna Sand :: July 5th, 2011 at 5:40 PM