Why Tar Sands Oil Pipelines Are Virtually Guaranteed to Spill

by Ryan Schleeter

August 3, 2017

For the past ten years, pipelines have spilled an average of 9,000 gallons of hazardous liquids every single day in the United States alone.

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.

Despite industry claims to the contrary, history shows that there is simply no safe way to transport fossil fuels, and pipelines are no exception.

The rate and volume of pipeline spills in the United States has increased in recent years, with devastating consequences for communities and our environment. In the past decade, U.S. pipeline spills have led to 20 fatalities, 35 injuries, $2.6 billion in costs, and more than 34 million gallons spilled. That’s an average of 9,000 gallons of hazardous liquids spilled every single day for ten years.

And yet Donald Trump’s pro-fossil fuel agenda means we could be facing a massive expansion of the U.S. pipeline network, including increased development in the Canadian tar sands. If that happens, it would be disastrous for the climate and violate the rights of tribes and First Nations on both sides of the border.

It would also mean more pipeline spills — lots of them.

Three companies — TransCanada, Kinder Morgan, and Enbridge — want to build new pipelines to transport oil from the Canadian tar sands into the United States. Together, they’ve seen 373 spills totaling 63,221 barrels of hazardous liquids since 2010 (more information in a new Greenpeace USA report).

Needless to say, this is a less than stellar track record.

Keystone XL builder TransCanada has by far the smallest U.S. pipeline network of the three, yet has still seen 13 spills in the last six years. Enbridge, which wants to expand its Line 3 pipeline through Minnesota and Wisconsin, has seen 147 spills. And Kinder Morgan, builder of the Trans Mountain pipeline in the Pacific Northwest, has seen 213 spills.

The largest of those was a massive spill from an Enbridge pipeline near Marshall, Michigan in 2010 that dumped more than 1 million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. Tar sands oil from the ruptured pipeline flowed freely for 17 hours and reached 40 miles downriver.

Tar sands oil spills are particularly hard to clean up because unlike crude oil, tar sands oil sinks in water.

If these companies — and others like them — are allowed to continue expanding the tar sands pipeline network, another Kalamazoo-sized spill is a very real threat. Given TransCanada’s history, the Keystone XL pipeline could expect 59 significant spills in 50 years, while Enbridge’s Line 3 Expansion would be expected to see 51 significant spills.

Our climate and communities cannot afford that. But there is a way to stop these pipelines from being built in the first place.

We know Trump is not going to step in to stop these projects; he already issued an executive order to “fast-track” the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines in January.

But he can’t control the financial markets.

It’s time to put the banks funding these dangerous pipelines on notice, starting with JPMorgan Chase. As the sixth-largest bank in the world — and one that publicly supported the Paris Climate Agreement — JPMorgan Chase has a responsibility to cut ties to this climate and human rights disaster.

Take action today: click below to tell JPMorgan Chase to defund tar sands pipelines!

Ryan Schleeter

By Ryan Schleeter

Ryan Schleeter is a content editor with the communications team at Greenpeace International. His writing has appeared in National Geographic, Grist, GreenBiz, EcoWatch, and more. Find him on Twitter @ryschlee.

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