4 Proposed Tar Sands Oil Pipelines Pose a Threat to Water Resources

by Tim Donaghy

August 2, 2017

A new analysis from Greenpeace USA finds that the three companies proposing to build tar sands pipelines have a legacy of pipeline spills, and that tar sands pipelines pose a threat to water resources.

Tar Sands Oil Pipeline Spills

Map of 373 U.S. hazardous liquids pipelines spills from 2010 to present for TransCanada (green), Kinder Morgan (purple) and Enbridge (blue). Available online at greenpeace.carto.com. Data: PHMSA & EIA.

Download the full analysis.

Summary Findings:

  • Oil spills anywhere pose serious risks to human health and the environment, and oil spilled into bodies of water is difficult to fully clean up. Diluted bitumen transported from Canada’s tar sands fields represents a particular threat to water resources along the routes of proposed pipelines.
  • Analysis of public data shows that the three companies proposing to build four tar sands pipelines — TransCanada, Kinder Morgan, Enbridge, and their subsidiaries — have seen 373 hazardous liquid spills from their U.S. pipeline networks from 2010 to present.
  • These spills released a total of 63,221 barrels of hazardous liquids during that time period — including Enbridge’s 20,082 barrel diluted bitumen spill into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.
  • The U.S. crude oil pipeline system as a whole has averaged one significant incident and a total of ~570 barrels released per year per 1000 miles of pipe, over the past 10 years.
  • Assuming these rates, the Keystone XL pipeline could expect 59 significant spills over a 50-year lifetime. Similarly, the Line 3 Expansion could see 51 significant spills over a 50-year lifetime.
  • Studies have found that a diluted bitumen spill into water is even more difficult to clean up than a conventional crude oil spill, due to the fact that bitumen sinks in water.

Interactive Map

A map of these spills is available at greenpeace.carto.com and is embedded below. Move the cursor over an individual spill or pipeline to show more information.

For Further Information:

This Policy Brief is published by Greenpeace USA. Analysis contributed by Tim Donaghy and Keith Stewart. For media inquiries please contact Jason Schwartz (jason.schwartz@greenpeace.org).

Tim Donaghy

By Tim Donaghy

Tim Donaghy is a Senior Research Specialist with Greenpeace USA. He writes frequently about climate change, offshore oil drilling, energy production, and the Arctic.

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