Aabitoose with Winona LaDuke: Leaky Pipelines & Bomb TrainsTweet
In today’s Aabitoose we hear from Sierra Club and Minnesota 350.org attorney Paul Blackburn, who discusses leaky pipelines, bomb trains, and a proposal to ship oil by tanker on Lake Superior. Honor the Earth, Sierra Club, and Minnesota 350 have intervened to oppose the Alberta Clipper (Line 67) pipeline expansion. There are already 7 pipelines through Minnesota and thousands of explosive train cars passing through every day. Winona LaDuke says keeping up with pipeline and railroad companies is like playing “whack-a-mole.” Meanwhile, American energy use has decreased by 15% since 2007, yet extreme energy expansion continues at an alarming rate. “This is a new world, and the new world is one of oil coming through Minnesota and putting Minnesotans at a much greater risk than they’ve been in the past,” says Blackburn.” “We think that people all up and down the pipeline routes and the railroad routes should be involved in a variety of different efforts that we’re taking and other groups are taking to express their concern about this new world to ensure that their communities, their families, and their environments are safe.”
Listen to Aabitoose with Winona LaDuke: Leaky Pipelines & Bomb Trains here:
The Enbridge Pipelines Corporation has experienced 804 oil spills for a total of 6.8 million gallons from 1999-2010. Despite the need for ongoing clean-up and retrofitting of old lines, Enbridge has proposed 3 new pipeline projects through Minnesota by 2016: the Alberta Clipper (Line 67), Sandpiper, and Line 3 pipelines. Enbridge claims a 99.993% success rate for its transportation of oil. However, there are currently 2 million barrels (84 million gallons) of oil flowing through Minnesota each day, making Minnesota the largest international pipeline corridor in the country. With 84 million gallons of oil traveling through Minnesota every day, a .007% rate of release would translate to an average of more than 2 million gallons of oil leaked per year in Minnesota. Of course major spills have skewed the average, such as the rupture of 1.3 million gallons of tar sands oil from Enbridge Line 6B along the Kalamazoo River in 2010.
Tar sands oil mining is the largest industrial project in human history. Most of the oil in Minnesota is coming from the from the Alberta tar sands, such as the Enbridge Line 6B and Alberta Clipper (Line 67) pipelines have been carrying. Instead of refitting the decades-old Line 6B pipeline, Enbridge played craps with peoples’ safety by constructing the new Alberta Clipper before fixing the old Line 6B. The people of Michigan are still paying the price for the Kalamazoo spill 3 years later, and Enbridge has still not cleaned that up according to Environmental Protection Agency standards. “Those costs get passed on to people at the pump. So that $1 billion spill isn’t coming out of the shareholders pockets for Enbridge,” says Blackburn. “That’s coming out of your pockets, everybody who is paying for the fuel that gets shipped through that pipeline. Everybody who is served by those Enbridge pipelines is paying for that spill.”
Tar sands oil comes out of the ground as road tar and must be diluted for transport. In fact, the Cochin pipeline, which imports propane to the U.S., is being converted to bring natural gas to Canada that will power tar sands extraction and dilute the tar. When a tar sands pipeline bursts, the natural gas evaporates into the air, and the tar sinks to the bottom of water and mixes with the sediment. In the case of the Kalamazoo spill, Enbridge did not respond to the spill for 17 hours after being contacted by a natural gas company that received reports of a leak from community members.
While pipeline companies assure people that their super-systems and technology such as the pipeline inspection gauge (P.I.G.), there is no guarantee a pipeline will not leak unless it does not exist. Abstinence is the safest policy. When pipelines do rupture, the majority of the time local people find the spills and not the pipeline company. “The oil companies say they’ve got all this great technology, all this computer equipment, and remote sensors that will detect a spill instantly and shut it off. Well the truth is there’s been studies done about this. I believe it’s less than 20% of the spills are detected by the technology, by the super-system,” says Blackburn. “So the rest of them are detected by guess who? The people who live there, local emergency response folks, by people who smell the spill. The rewards go to the company, but the risks are sometimes right on the front line emergency responders.”
In addition to the risk of pipeline leaks, landowners within the path of a pipeline must deal with the threat of having their land seized by eminent domain. Essentially, eminent domain allows a foreign company like Enbridge to force settlements on landowners to purchase rights-of-way, condemning private property for pipeline construction. While disguising their private investment as a public works project, Enbridge has been working on loopholes in Minnesota state law to avoid federal review and analysis for their new pipeline proposals. “That’s a thing a lot of rural landowners find to be very disturbing, that a company like Enbridge can have the right of the government to take property,” says Blackburn. “When you have a pipeline company taking property at market value for the same rate the government would get private property to create a private pipeline that creates private profits for a company out of state, there’s something wrong about that.”
Trains are not much safer, but they do spill less oil and less frequently than pipelines. However, pipeline companies have been using images of exploding trains as propaganda to push new pipelines and expansion projects. These bomb trains have been carrying Bakken crude oil, which is a volatile mixture from western North Dakota oil fields, extracted by hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Little is known about fracking fluid, since the contents are kept “trade secrets.” Only so much can be done to improve the safety of both trains carrying Bakken crude, but there are currently more than 300,000 DOT-111 tanker cars on the rails in the U.S. and Canada, which are not safe to carry flammable materials. Railroad companies are endangering people and the environment by cutting labor and maintenance costs and not improving the safety of rail cars or infrastructure.
“The oil companies try and minimize their costs by not having as much emergency response equipment, by not helping to pay for training for local folks, and by not providing the equipment to local people,” says Blackburn. “Since the local responder is more than likely going to be the first person to see the spill, we need to help protect them.” Communities are almost never prepared for the damage caused by a major oil spill. For instance, the Lac Megantic train crash was caused by the combined negligence of the company and ignorance of emergency responders. When the unmanned train caught fire, Canadian firefighters responded and cut the air brakes, accidentally setting the 74-car train in motion, and 57 tanker cars derailed and exploded. Witnesses called the Lac Megantic crash a “tsunami of fire,” and authorities said the exploding Bakken crude had “vaporized” the 47 missing people. There is also the concern of companies going bankrupt after a major and not cleaning up, leaving the people living in the sacrifice zone to fend for themselves.
“I think it seems quite likely that what happened was the railroad company was cheaping out, keeping their labor costs low, keeping their maintenance costs low. They weren’t properly having the right kind of workers on the train, and not maintaining the train properly because they’re just being cheap,” says Blackburn. “Like all companies they’re trying to reduce their costs and maximize their profits. They did it at a risk to that train, and that train killed all those people. That railroad company declared bankruptcy, and it’s hard to say if those folks, all the people who own the property, and all the people who died and lost family and friends to the fire, whether they’re going to be properly compensated by that railroad because the railroad declared bankruptcy.”
While the Department of Transportation has estimated that retrofitting the remaining 300,000 DOT-111 tank cars to make them safer for Bakken crude will only cost $1 billion, there has been ongoing resistance from the railroad industry. Currently 90% of all oil coming out of North Dakota is already being transported by train, and Enbridge has decreased the flow of its existing North Dakota pipeline from 200,000 to 100,000 barrels per day. However, Enbridge has proposed a $2.7 billion project known as the Sandpiper pipeline, funded by oil companies in western North Dakota. Furthermore, North Dakota oil companies could fund the retrofitting of 300,000 remaining DOT-111 cars in the U.S. and Canada for a third of what the Sandpiper pipeline will cost.
The oil in the Bakken formation is only expected to last 20 years and holds less than a year’s supply of U.S. oil. However, tar sands oil extraction is planned for another 50 years at least, and Bakken crude pipelines will likely be converted to tar sands oil. “The Bakken oil is not projected to be lasting anywhere near that long. It’s expected to peak sometime in early 2020s. So the pipelines for the Bakken will be used for a shorter period of time,” says Blackburn. “The pipelines they’re building are for the tar sands. They’re planning to develop the tar sands to damage an area the size of Florida.”
While the oil industry is working to convince public officials that extreme energy expansion is good for American energy security, much of the oil extracted in the U.S. and Canada will be exported. “The truth is that there’s a big middle ground there, and I think we all know we can conserve and use fuel much more efficiently than we’re doing now. That will make us all wealthier at some level because we won’t be giving our money to Texas,” says Blackburn. “We’ll have more energy security, and our lives will be healthier. There’s so many reasons to be conscious and thoughtful about saving our energy for our own benefits.”
Winona LaDuke: Aaniin, this is Winona LaDuke with our show Aabitoose, here with Paul Blackburn. He’s an attorney with MN350.org and also with Sierra Club. Paul, you have cases you’re working on and some legislation as well, but we’re going to start with the contested case of the Alberta Clipper. For those who don’t know, the Alberta Clipper is the line running across Highway 2. It is carrying tar sands oil from the Alberta tar sands to Duluth.
Paul Blackburn: That’s correct. Actually, there are 7 pipelines running through northern Minnesota. Most people don’t understand that Minnesota hosts a tremendous amount of crude oil infrastructure in the form of these pipelines. They’re shipping sort of the equivalent of the Exxon-Valdez amount of oil across Minnesota each day, and some of those pipelines are quite old. The Alberta Clipper, Line 67 is the bureaucratic name. The Alberta Clipper pipeline is the newest one. That was just built in 2010, but they also have a number of other pipelines, some of which are decades old at this point. As pipelines get old they do tend to corrode, and when they corrode, there’s a bigger risk of them rupturing.
Winona LaDuke: As well, I think it depends on what you’re carrying in them. From what I understand, tar sands or dilbit as it’s called is more corrosive.
Paul Blackburn: It can be more corrosive than some kinds of oil, but there’s a lot of different issues with dilbit. Dilbit is short for diluted bitumen. The tar sands crude oil is not normal crude oil. It’s never been used until the last few years. Essentially, bitumen is road tar. What they do is get this tar mixed with sand in Canada, and they extract the tar out of it. You can’t ship tar through a pipeline really well, since it’s so thick and gooey. So what they do is dilute it. They mix it with lighter kinds of oil and petroleum constituents, sort of like gasoline. They mix road tar with gasoline, and they blend it all together. Then it gets runny enough to pump through a pipeline.
The problem is it’s not like normal crude oil because if it ruptures, first off the gasoline component starts to all evaporate. So when dilbit pipelines rupture, there’s a lot of air pollution like when a big gasoline pipeline ruptures. Got a lot of really nasty fumes in the air. Then what’s left over after the gasoline part of the mixture evaporates is the road tar-type stuff, and that all tends to sink into water. As we saw in Kalamazoo when there was a big dilbit spill down in Michigan, what happened was it spilled and people miles away were complaining about the smell. They had to close daycare centers, and folks had all different kinds of symptoms from the smell.
All this diluent was evaporating while the oil was in the river, and the tar sunk to the bottom. So rather than being able to skim it off the top or use those absorbent mats to get the oil out of the water, they had to come up with dredges to get the oil out. That mixed up all kinds of sediments, and it was a real mess. So far Enbridge, the same company that owns pipelines in Minnesota and this is a different part of its system down in Michigan, has spent over a billion dollars cleaning up that spill. It’s a complete mess.
Winona LaDuke: And it’s still not cleaned up.
Paul Blackburn: No, they’re still working on it. They’re still fighting with the Environmental Protection Agency on this. Again, this is because diluted bitumen or dilbit is not normal crude oil. It’s a manufactured product that’s made up in Canada and shipped through these pipelines. Because of its physical properties, the dilbit also creates new risks of ruptures because it changes the way that pressure works within pipelines. There can be higher or lower pressures, and it’s those changes in pressure that can result in a pipeline burst.
Winona LaDuke: So in the Clipper are they having only dilbit in there or are they having batches of Bakken crude in there too?
Paul Blackburn: Well, within the Alberta Clipper pipeline, one of these 7 pipelines up there, it’s almost entirely dilbit because that pipeline is specified, according to Enbridge, to ship only heavy crude oil, which is at this point dilbit. There’s also a pipeline called Line 4, one of the older pipelines, and it ships both dilbit and Bakken crude. Then there are other pipelines that may ship Bakken crude too. The older pipelines ship heavy oils for the most part, but they do ship a combination of light oils, probably a lot of Bakken crude as well.
Winona LaDuke: So for those just listening in, I’m talking with Paul Blackburn. He’s an attorney who knows a lot about pipelines. I don’t know if you grew up working on pipelines, but you really know a lot about pipelines from what I can gather. A lot of people didn’t know that there were 7 pipelines crossing northern Minnesota, and most of those go along the Highway 2 corridor. Then there is the MinnCan pipeline that runs south.
Paul Blackburn: Yes, the oil comes from just the border of North Dakota. It cuts down through a tiny bit of North Dakota and goes down to Clearbrook, Minnesota, and there’s a big terminal. In Clearbrook a separate pipeline comes in from North Dakota, and the combined set of pipelines goes over to Duluth, to Superior, Wisconsin. From there they go down to Chicago. Essentially, these pipelines that go through Minnesota serve not only Duluth, but they serve refineries in the Chicago area, they serve in Toledo, Detroit –
Winona LaDuke: They serve the Great Lakes refineries.
Paul Blackburn: Yes, and they serve the upper-mid-West refineries in general, so refineries in Illinois, including St. Louis. They are planning to ship as far as Montreal, and they just announced that they are going to change one of the refineries in Lima, Ohio to be able to start processing this heavy dilbit. Refineries generally can’t process dilbit because it’s such an unusual kind of oil, unless they spend a huge amount of money to include additional equipment to essentially turn road tar into gasoline. It’s a fairly complex chemical process that they have to change the refineries. In addition, they’re planning on shipping a lot of this oil to the Gulf Coast, where they already have a lot of refineries that can already process heavy oil from Venezuela. They also want to export crude oil from the Gulf Coast of the United States. Even from the pipeline network out to Portland, Maine they want to export this heavy crude oil overseas, and/or they could also refine it into gasoline and diesel fuel, then export gasoline and diesel fuel from the United States overseas too.
Winona LaDuke: A lot of people don’t know where Clearbrook, Minnesota is. It’s not on a lot of people’s maps, but it’s over there by Bagley/Bemidji area. It’s a centerpiece for oil coming into this whole region.
Paul Blackburn: Yes, these pipelines are the primary way that oil moves out of Canada into the United States. There’s another relatively small pipeline that comes in from Alberta to the Pacific Northwest, and there’s another pipeline called the Express Pipeline that goes into Montana, and it pales in comparison.
Winona LaDuke: So the size of the Clipper right now is 440,000 barrels per day.
Paul Blackburn: It’s about 450,000 barrels per day, but the entire amount of capacity for Enbridge at this point is, I believe at this point, just under 2 million barrels per day. So if you think about 2 million barrels of crude oil potentially coming into the United States, they can bring in a huge amount of oil into the United States through Minnesota, and most people don’t know that. It is the primary interstate highway in from Canada to the United States to bring in crude oil.
Winona LaDuke: And we’re talking tar sands.
Paul Blackburn: Yes, that’s primarily tar sands. There’s also some oil in Canada that’s been termed “synthetic crude.” That synthetic crude comes through Minnesota as well, but it’s all from the tar sands.
Winona LaDuke: For those who are just listening in, there’s conventional oil, which is what your mother’s oil was. We were used to that, but the reason this is so contentious is because it’s known as extreme energy extraction. It’s highly environmentally destructive at the source and has a huge carbon footprint.
Paul Blackburn: One of the ways they get dilbit out of the ground is to strip mine it. So they have these area that are much like the Boundary Waters. They’re all boreal forest areas and they bring in the bulldozers, they scrape it all to bare dirt, they dig holes that are hundreds and hundreds of feet in the ground. These mining areas are now stretching over hundreds and hundreds of square miles; I think the largest mining area in the world at this point. It’s a complete sacrifice zone.
They also have other technologies where they can pump a great deal of steam underground to melt that tar, and then they can up bring the tar up in the melted form while it’s still hot. That requires tremendous amounts of energy in the form of natural gas. There are so many impacts in this. For example, there was a pipeline that brought propane to Minnesota. Propane is important for people in rural areas for home heating but also for drawing crops. It’s a very important fuel for a lot of rural Minnesota. It was called the Cochin pipeline, and they just rededicated that to moving this diluent, gasoline-like stuff up to Canada from the United States, mix it with road tar, and bring it back down here. Now this propane pipeline’s being used for the tar sands development, and they’re going to bring in propane by rail instead to replace it. So we’re going to see a lot more propane railroad cars rolling through northern Minnesota, and that creates a new set of dangers.
Winona LaDuke: So we’re going to talk about rail cars, risk, explosions in a few minutes. I don’t know how old you are, but basically we’re children of fossil fuels. We’ve lived in this era. We’ve like it. I have a couple of pick-up trucks and an S.U.V. I’m a child of fossil fuels era. We consumed 50 percent of the world’s fossil fuels in a rather short period of time, and what’s out there is this new stuff that’s kind of hard to get. You’re talking about the tar sands as something that environmentally in terms of health impact is a huge destruction of a region. Northern Alberta’s kind of remote, so people don’t know that there’s people who live there, kind of out-of-sight out-of-mind, but it comes to a pipeline for us. And some of us say, “That’s just how it is.” But this is a little more than “just how it is.”
Paul Blackburn: I think the term extreme oil is good because if you think about what happened in the past, there is an oilfield like the ones in Louisiana and Texas that they started drilling in the 1920s and 30s. They put a well in the ground, and they could get up to around 100,000 barrels per day for years, and years, and years. The oil was easy to get out of the ground; it was less expensive to find; it was not very deep wells; it was pretty simple oil and pretty high quality oil. So what’s happened is we’ve used up a lot of those kinds of fields, and now we’re moving to extreme oil.
Everybody remembers the Deep Water Horizon explosion, but one form of extreme oil is going into extremely deep areas in the ocean and doing drilling there, which creates an entirely new set of risks. Then you have the tar sands developments in Canada, which are these huge mines and huge amounts of natural gas, and tremendous amounts of resources that turn it into something that can even be shipped to the United States. Tar sands oil is an entirely different kind of extreme oil and the cost is very expensive to do that. Then you’ve got the Bakken oil. The Bakken oil requires all this fracking equipment and all the diesel fuel to run the fracking equipment, a lot of sand from Wisconsin and Minnesota, and they have to bring in a lot of water. There’s tremendous amounts of truck traffic and all that requires a lot of labor and a lot of money to get relatively small amounts of oil out of the ground per well, compared to the past.
Sure, the industry does a lot of cheerleading and they do pretty amazing things technologically to get this oil, but the fact that we’re having to go to that means that: One the oil is very expensive and two there’s not a good sign we’re going to have a lot of oil after this. So what happens after the Bakken fuel and any of the Bakken developments? You hear a lot about the Bakken developments and how it’s saved all of us and how we don’t have any more energy and oil problems. What the United States Geographic Survey says is that the Bakken has about 3.65 billion barrels of oil that’s recoverable in it. Another one you hear about is the Three Forks, which is an underlying formation there, and it has about 3.73 billion barrels of oil. That may sound like a lot to your listeners, but the U.S. consumed 6.8 billion barrels of oil in 2012 alone. Those two fields together, assuming the U.S. Geographic Survey is right, have one year of oil in them. In the U.S. Geographic Survey’s extreme forecast, the Bakken and Three Forks have maybe 11 billion barrels of oil, that’s still only about 2 years of oil.
That is like somebody saying that because I’m still getting a good pull on my soda out of the straw, it’s not going down. The fact that you can still get a good drink out of your soda while it’s getting near the bottom doesn’t mean it ain’t getting near the bottom. The fact that we can suck it faster doesn’t mean we got more.
Winona LaDuke: So Paul, we’ve been talking about the tar sands oil and the Alberta Clipper pipeline. When I first met you, which is only a few months ago, we were talking specifically about you guys, being Minnesota 350 and Sierra Club, have intervened in this contested case hearing about if this pipeline expansion is needed. This is the Enbridge Corporation, who is trying to expand this tar sands pipeline, which basically you’re telling me now is the equivalent of an Exxon-Valdez oil – 2 million barrels per day crossing Minnesota. Holy buckets! Or holy pipelines! That’s a lot of oil.
Paul Blackburn: It’s a tremendous amount of oil and people think about Texas as being an oil state, and Minnesota doesn’t get any real revenue out of that. There’s not many jobs. There’s no real advantage to Minnesotans. All the risks are here, the risks of those pipelines rupturing, but the rewards really get passed on to Texas. Most of the oil companies have their headquarters down there, and that’s where all the profits tend to flow to. Minnesotans don’t think of themselves as a state with much crude oil infrastructure, but it is the single largest import pipeline system coming right through Minnesota. Now with the trains, the majority of those oil trains that have been exploding all over the country are rolling right through Minnesota and right through Minneapolis and St. Paul, and Detroit Lakes, and Elk River –
Winona LaDuke: Staples.
Paul Blackburn: There’s many, many whistle-stop towns along these rail lines with 75 to 100 tanker cars in them. I think that some of your listeners may have heard what happened in Lac Megantic in Quebec, where about 57 of those cars derailed and exploded. 47 people were killed and they never found the bodies –
Winona LaDuke: Vaporized, that was the term that they used.
Blackburn: People said it was like a wall of napalm burning, going through the town and burning everything in the town. It was a tremendous disaster. If your listeners want to go online and look up Lac Megantic and the oil spill, there’s amazing video about what that was like. That kind of disaster is potentially possible in many places in Minnesota from the Twin Cities to many, many small towns –
Winona LaDuke: Detroit Lakes. In this case it seemed like the human error of not putting the brakes on. Casselton case was they hit another car.
Paul Blackburn: Yes, in Casselton, North Dakota there was a big explosion, as I understand it a soybean train fell over into the oil cars and set them on fire. Lac Megantic was a little more complicated. There the engineer left the train running. Only had one person working and he’d been working for 12 hours, so they called him off.
Winona LaDuke: He was probably exhausted.
Paul Blackburn: Yes, the engineer left. He apparently left the brakes in place. He left the train running because then the pneumatic air brakes would keep going, but the train wasn’t properly maintained. The engineer told his dispatchers that it wasn’t working properly, and apparently the engine caught on fire. The locomotive caught on fire. So the fire department came out, turned off the locomotive, which cut the air brakes, and apparently the manual brakes weren’t sufficient to keep the train in place. It rolled down a hill, got up to 60 miles per hour, slammed into this town, all those rail cars derailed, and it exploded.
I think it seems quite likely that what happened was the railroad company was cheaping out, keeping their labor costs low, keeping their maintenance costs low. They weren’t properly having the right kind of workers on the train, and not maintaining the train properly because they’re just being cheap. Like all companies they’re trying to reduce their costs and maximize their profits. They did it at a risk to that train, and that train killed all those people. That railroad company declared bankruptcy, and it’s hard to say if those folks, all the people who own the property, and all the people who died and lost family and friends to the fire, whether they’re going to be properly compensated by that railroad because the railroad declared bankruptcy.
Winona LaDuke: We started talking about pipelines, and now we’re talking about trains. We’re going to get back to the trains after, but basically what you have is a lot of stuff they’re trying to move really quickly. North Dakota’s kind of an ecological mess with what’s going on in the Bakken. There’s not a lot of regulation. There’s trash everywhere. There are man-camps. There are spills that have not been reported. There’s the 865,000 gallon spill in the Tioga farm field, and that seeped up from 6 feet down in a 6-inch pipe that they said maybe got hit by lightning with a thumb-size leak in it. That’s a lot of not monitoring. Pipelines are generally monitored by the companies. They have this things called the P.I.G.: Pipeline inspection gauge. I really like that.
And then they have a super-system up in Estevan, Saskatchewan. Their super-remote system monitors everything, but for instance they just had a spill up there near Winnipeg. I don’t know how far that was from the monitoring system, but they had the spill right there. In the case of the Enbridge spill in Kalamazoo, that went for a while before they noticed it.
Paul Blackburn: Well, it went for 17 hours. The oil companies say they’ve got all this great technology, all this computer equipment, and remote sensors that will detect a spill instantly and shut it off. Well the truth is there’s been studies done about this. I believe it’s less than 20 percent of the spills are detected by the technology, by the super-system. So the rest of them are detected by guess who? The people who live there, local emergency response folks, by people who smell the spill. In Kalamazoo they thought they had a bubble in the pipeline because the diluent dilbit tends to be at high risk for creating essentially bubbles in the pipeline. I can’t go into the reason right now, but they thought they had a bubble in the pipeline.
They actually had a rupture, and they kept turning that pipeline on and off for 17 hours before they figured out and they had a rupture. They kept pumping on and off for 17 hours after it was completely ruptured, and they just kept pumping oil out into the river. That’s because their technology didn’t really tell them what was going on. They had controllers up in Alberta, who looked at the data and simply misinterpreted it. In the meantime, it was actually a natural gas company people were calling because of the smell. The natural gas company sent somebody out, and the natural gas local utility guy saw the oil in the creek and called Enbridge and said, “Hey you got an oil leak.” That was 17 hours it took them to shut that down. Sure it’s not bad to have the technology, but it isn’t terribly reliable.
Winona LaDuke: So you’re saying that 20 percent of the spills are actually detected by the company?
Paul Blackburn: Maybe it’s a little bit less than that.
Winona LaDuke: Maybe it is because that spill in the Tioga farm field was a Tesoro pipeline, not an Enbridge pipeline, but it was still found by the guy.
Paul Blackburn: It’s a local person that found it, and I think that’s one of the things that we’re concerned about because very often our first responders – volunteer fire departments, the sheriff’s departments that are going out there and seeing these spills. All this extreme oil tends to create new kinds of risks, and the companies are not being terribly transparent about it. They’re not really helping that much. The rewards go to the company, but the risks are sometimes right on the front line emergency responders. This town in Quebec that had that oil train crash into it, it’s only 5,000 people. How many fire fighters and how many police officers do they have to help keep people safe? How many of them got killed in the fire? In rural areas, who is really there to help you?
The oil companies try and minimize their costs by not having as much emergency response equipment, by not helping to pay for training for local folks, and by not providing the equipment to local people. Since the local responder is more than likely going to be the first person to see the spill, we need to help protect them.
Winona LaDuke: A lot of us don’t even know where pipelines are. I think half those people down in Mayflower, Arkansas probably didn’t even know they had a pipeline in their backyard.
Paul Blackburn: Companies try really hard to keep people from knowing what these pipelines are. We all also hear about the natural gas pipelines that explode and incinerate neighborhoods. The companies all just want people to trust them. I think that verifying the trust is what we should be doing. Citizens have a right to know what’s being done with the pipelines that run through their towns and communities, literally their backyards sometimes.
Winona LaDuke: So we’re all beneficiaries of this fossil fuel age. A lot of these pipelines are going through. As we said, the Alberta Clipper and the Sandpiper are a couple of newer ones that Enbridge, a 60 year-old company and actually a Canadian corporation so they’re not locals, that’s some new stuff, but a lot of these are old. The whole country is full of aging infrastructure. We haven’t invested in infrastructure. Duluth crumbled in a flood. We get a D in infrastructure from what I’ve heard, and that includes our pipelines. I think it’s a 40 or 50 year-old pipeline that’s under the Straits of Mackinac, and that’s an Enbridge line.
Paul Blackburn: Yes, just like that pipeline that ruptured into the Kalamazoo River. It was called Line 6B. Enbridge was undoubtedly planning to replace that line well before it ruptured, but they built the Alberta Clipper first, rather than fixing their own pipeline first. They were rolling the dice. They were pushing that old pipeline as hard as they could. They misjudged it, and the line ruptured before they got it fixed because they’d rather be putting money into new pipelines and new infrastructure than fixing what they already have. Now they’ve replaced it or are in the process of replacing it.
Winona LaDuke: I think they were forced to.
Paul Blackburn: They were forced to because that pipeline was so old, and the companies all say that age doesn’t have anything to do with pipelines because if they maintain it properly and repair it properly, then they can keep a pipeline going forever. My first car was a really old, ratty Toyota Corolla. It was rusted out. It had holes in the floorboards. In theory, I could have spent a lot of money to keep that going, but did I? No, because it was so old and so fallen apart at that point that it didn’t make sense to invest money in that old car, the same way that pipeline companies don’t necessarily want to invest money into fixing old pipelines because at some point they will likely abandon some of these pipelines.
They want to maximize their profit and minimize their costs. They will play craps with peoples’ safety. In Kalamazoo it cost the people there tremendous impacts to their local environments. The other thing is it cost the company a billion dollars to clean it up, but you know who they could pass those costs onto? Those costs get passed on to people at the pump. So that billion dollar spill isn’t coming out of the shareholders pockets for Enbridge. That’s coming out of your pockets, everybody who is paying for the fuel that gets shipped through that pipeline. Everybody who is served by those Enbridge pipelines is paying for that spill.
Winona LaDuke: So we’re going to take a break here in a minute for our station I.D.s, but I’m talking to Paul Blackburn here, attorney who’s working on the Alberta Clipper intervention and has a lot of pipeline knowledge obviously. Part of what I’m getting out of this is one of the things that Minnesotans and people need to think about is we’re just the place where it all passes through, and a lot of it’s passing through. But we’re not actually benefitting, except for we’re getting a good price on oil, and I’m not actually sure that’s happening. The financial benefits are not accrued by residents of northern Minnesota. There’s some tax benefits.
Paul Blackburn: There’s some tax benefits. There are a few jobs, and some of the oil does come to Minnesota. A relatively small portion of the oil that comes in comes to Minnesota. Minnesota has the highest dependency of any state on this tar sands crude or gasoline that we burn in our cars.
Winona LaDuke: 80 percent is tar sands from the tar sands here, isn’t it?
Paul Blackburn: It comes from the dirtiest oil in the world. So when Minnesotans are fueling their cars, they’re burning the dirtiest fuel in the world. The gasoline’s the same, but the source of it is the dirtiest source in the world. The oil infrastructure’s here, and I think that Minnesotans have a right and a responsibility to make sure that it’s as safe as possible. Regardless of what folks think about fossil fuels and the impacts on the climate and climate change, still none of us want a spill and none of us want to have the St. Louis River running with oil down into Lake Superior. The other proposal we haven’t even touched on, which is the proposal to ship oil by oil tanker on Lake Superior.
Winona LaDuke: Terrifying actually, Paul. Nice to hang out with you in person though and talk about all the really terrifying proposals that are out there on pipelines and trains. We’re going to get back to that about trains, which someone told me are pipelines on wheels, an interesting way to look at it. This is Winona LaDuke, our show Aabitoose. Thanks for joining us!
The Band – “The Weight”