As the U.S. Senate considers another Keystone vote, a new study released today reveals a deeply troubling history of pipeline accidents in the United States. An independent analysis of federal records has found that since 1986, oil and gas pipeline leaks, spills and other incidents have resulted in nearly $7 billion in damages, more than 2,000 injuries, and more than 500 deaths.
A new time-lapse video documents every “significant pipeline” incident in the continental United States — along with their human and financial costs — from 1986 to 2012. On average one significant pipeline incident occurs in the country every 30 hours, according to the data.
“Pipelines have a long history of spills, injuries and death. President Obama can choose to keep his climate promise and side with protecting the American people from more oil spills, or he can side with an industry responsible for a record of mayhem,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The question is not if Keystone XL will spill, but when. For this and so many other reasons, Keystone XL should never be built.”
The analysis comes as the State Department considers the Keystone XL pipeline — which would transport up to 35 million gallons of tar sands oil a day from Canada to Texas — that federal officials have already estimated could spill up to 100 times during its lifetime. President Obama has remained noncommittal on the issue, and in a recent New York Times interview mocked the inflated job figures for the project while suggesting he was still open to options that would ease the environmental impact of the pipeline.
At the same time, Republican members of Congress are pushing to vote on an amendment that would bypass the president and the legal review process and require that the Keystone be built; with the next vote on Keystone likely to be in the Senate. The data released today should give all elected officials pause.
“The dangers of Keystone become clearer every day as we learn more about pipeline safety and how Keystone threatens wildlife, people and a healthy climate,” said Greenwald said. “This decision shouldn’t be about politics but about what’s right and what’s safe. Politicians of every stripe ought to understand that.”
The video and analysis follows a recent vote in the Senate in which several Democrats, including Florida’s Bill Nelson, Colorado’s Michael Bennet and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, voted in favor of Keystone. Right now, the anti-Keystone movement is just a few votes shy of stopping the pipeline in the Senate.
“This video ought to be a serious wakeup call to any senator who’s voted in favor of Keystone in the past,” said Greenwald.
One difference between Keystone XL and the vast majority of other pipelines that have spilled is that it will be carrying tar sands oil, which has proven very difficult, if not impossible, to clean up. A 2010 spill of tar sands oil in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, for example, has yet to be cleaned up despite three years of effort. Another tar sands spill in March fouled an entire neighborhood in Arkansas. Federal regulators have acknowledged that Keystone XL, too, will spill.
The analysis released today examines pipeline incidents since 1986, including spills, leaks, ruptures, and explosions. It’s based on records from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which maintains a database of all U.S. pipeline incidents that are classified as “significant,” those resulting in death or injury, damages more than $50,000, more than 5 barrels of highly volatile substances or 50 barrels of other liquid released, or where the liquid exploded or burned. In total there have been nearly 8,000 significant incidents with U.S. pipelines, involving death, injury, and economic and environmental damage, since 1986 — more than 300 per year.
“Claims by the oil and gas industry that pipelines are safe are simply not supported by the facts,” said Greenwald. “Nearly 8,000 significant incidents involving death, injury or damage shows that pipelines regularly fail, and fail big. Americans shouldn’t bear the huge risks of the Keystone XL pipeline only to help TransCanada get tar sands oil onto the world market.”
TransCanada’s existing Keystone I tar sands pipeline has reportedly leaked 14 times since it went into operation in June 2010, including one spill of 24,000 gallons. The State Department’s environmental reviews have pointed out that spills from Keystone XL are likely to occur, estimating that there could be as many as about 100 spills over the course of the pipeline’s lifespan. The pipeline will cross 1,700 miles and cross a number of important rivers, including the Yellowstone and Platte, as well as thousands of smaller rivers and streams.