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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/25/15

Yellowstone River spill should be considered a harbinger

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The Jan. 17 Yellowstone River deluge of as much as 50,000 gallons of oil is not acceptable. It's criminal and should not be considered negligence, but rather, as nothing less than an act of eco-terrorism. Oil companies have been getting away with mass pollution of public waterways for far too long now. Prosecutions of these incidents need to be viewed more as criminal atrocities than civil complaints.

And if the Keystone XL pipeline is built, expect the worst to happen eventually. Critics are not predicting ifan oil spill will occur, but are asking when, since oil spills and pipelines are almost a matrimonial sort of thing. . . .We're talking about something that's a constant and not a variable.

The Yellowstone River saw a deluge of between 40,000-50,000 gallons of oil leaked into it by an antiquated pipeline on Jan. 17.
The Yellowstone River saw a deluge of between 40,000-50,000 gallons of oil leaked into it by an antiquated pipeline on Jan. 17.
(Image by YellowstoneNPS)
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Spilling between 40,000 to 50,000 gallons of crude oil into a river in which whole communities rely on for their drinking and bathing needs is something that should not be taken lightly. Not to mention the mess this caused and the dynamics involved, like trying to rid pollution from a river covered with ice. The ruptured pipeline was built in the 1950s and its most recent testing, in 2012, raises questions about the integrity of the company operating this pipeline. Families in communities downstream of the spill had to resort to drinking and bathing with bottled water. Even dogs and cats took a whiff of the tainted H20 in their dishes and refused a drink. Is the water safe? Who knows. A cancer-causing agent, Benzene, was discovered in a city just downstream of this spill, reports The Guardain.

Sen. Jon Tester said the Yellowstone River spill came from the decades-old Poplar Pipeline. Tester called the spill unavoidable, admitting "'we just didn't have the folks on the ground' to prevent it," according to ABC 13 WSET.

"We need to take a look at some of these pipelines that have been in the ground for half a century and say, 'Are they still doing a good job?'" Tester said.

"Oil is drowning our oceans and drowning our boreal forests," said Winona LaDuke, an American Indian activist, environmentalist, economist, and writer. LaDuke also said, "I don't oppose pipelines. I like infrastructure. But I heard that the Keystone XL pipeline was going to carry tar sands oil from the lands of the Cree and Dene all the way to the Gulf of Mexico across the Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest aquifer systems in the world. It's bad for the climate, bad for the people, and it's all about profits."

The Yellowstone River spill couldn't have come at a more uncomfortable time for a plethora of national leaders who are friends with Big Oil. The entirety of the Republican Party, along with some Democrats, including Tester, want the Obama administration to approve TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. President Barack Obama has uttered some concern over building the Keystone XL, and reports indicate he will most likely veto plans to build the 875-mile-long pipeline, which will transport up to 830,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Alberta, Canada, and the Bakken Shale Formation in Montana to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The Keystone XL would cross the Yellowstone River roughly 20 miles upstream of the Poplar Pipeline spill.

In 2011, an ExxonMobil pipeline break spilled 63,000 gallons of oil during flooding on the Yellowstone River near Billings, Mont. The break was blamed on scouring of the river bottom that exposed the company's Silvertip line to floodwaters. Outrageous spills of such goliath volumes effecting cities and towns are all too common and all too frequent. On Jan. 6, three million gallons of saltwater generated by oil drilling leaked from a North Dakota pipeline, the largest spill since the North Dakota oil boom began. Three times worse than any other spill in North Dakota's oil boom, two creeks were affected, "but the full environmental effect might not be clear for months," WC Native News reports.

Pipelines, pipelines and even more pipelines. This seems to be the attitude of the Republican-led Congress. On Jan. 23, U.S. Senate Democrats were outraged because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) abruptly cut off debate on the Keystone XL bill so that Republicans could attend a weekend conference with the Koch brothers. In other news, ranging from Doddridge County in West Virginia to the Canadian border, landowners in the $4.4 billion Rover Pipeline's path have expressed concerns and opposition. This infrastructure endeavor - estimated to pump 3.25 billion cubic feet of Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas across Ohio and Michigan, has met with more than its share of controversy but the national media's focus on the monster Keystone XL has dwarfed its importance in the national news arena. Small wire blurbs in daily newspapers near cities that lie around where this pipeline is to be laid account for most of the reports published concerning the Rover.

According to PoliticusUSA: Blindsided Democrats accused (Sen. McConnell) of shutting down a Senate that he had promised to run in a more open way than their own leaders did. They also wondered aloud if Republicans were trying to wrap up all Keystone business to accommodate a conference scheduled for this weekend (Jan. 24 & 25) in Palm Springs, Calif., that's affiliated with the billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch.

"Senator McConnell's rush to vote on amendments without providing time to read or debate them could have something to do with this Koch retreat tomorrow (Jan. 24), which a number of Republican senators are reportedly attending"," Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said by email (to PoliticusUSA) .

Jentleson and several other Democratic aides suggested that McConnell might have acted to let the Senate GOP's trio of expected White House hopefuls, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, make their way to the conference.

Well this is fine. The Republican-led Congress is going to get this Keystone XL pipeline pipelined through the federal government, and that's that. There should be some accountability involved with this, however. The Keystone XL will be the largest pipeline in U.S. history. It's a monster, and if it is constructed, some simple ground rules must be implemented. These include:

Texaco's signature of water pollution in Lago Agrio, something you'll never see on a TV ad.
Texaco's signature of water pollution in Lago Agrio, something you'll never see on a TV ad.
(Image by jgomba)
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* Any major spill that effects an entire population, like a city, town, or Indian reservation, along a pipeline's trek should be considered criminal and not just a civil matter. For all too long, Big Oil & Gas companies have merely suffered the consequences of paying a fine to get off the hook and jail and/or prison time has not been part of the penalty process. Fines may seem steep to the average working Joe American, but to Big Oil & Gas conglomerates, the sums they might have to pay are actually paltry. In cases where imprisonment has been part of the penalty, short jail stays have resulted. A different approach needs to be set in place to stop all these pollution "accidents". Top corporate officials, along with everyone else involved with pushing these projects through all the necessary governmental channels - from federal legislators to city mayors and township trustees - should be prosecuted as criminals in federal and state criminal courts, especially if a catastrophe results from a pipeline leak or a tragedy from a fracking operative occurs (a devastating earthquake, perhaps?). If pipeline breaks, injection well disasters, and other instances that could create widespread pollution of waterways, the atmosphere, and land masses are to stop, the looming threat of longtime incarceration must be levied against all involved with these projects' implementation and operation. Perhaps if Big Oil & Gas executives and politicians responsible for these "sweetheart deals" face prison sentences, and say, hypothetically, if some poor sots fall terminally ill or die due to a pollution-related matter, oil and gas companies, along with political leaders, will be more careful in the construction and upkeep of pipelines, fracking wells, oil refineries, and other things utilized by Big Oil & Gas for harvesting, transporting and processing fossil-fuel products.

* Out of fairness, most oil spills are not deliberate acts, but in some rare cases, they are planned and executed as brazen and bold events. Mahoning Valley businessman Ben Lupo knowingly dumped what is believed to be as much as 250,000 gallons of fracking waste into a tributary of the Mahoning River in Youngstown, Ohio, a few years ago and was prosecuted for violating the federal Clean Water Act. His sentence? A mere 28 months in federal prison. In the case of Lupo, who ordered those employed by him to dump oilfield waste into a sewer drain in his plant in an industrial park on Salt Springs Road in Youngstown, Ohio, during nighttime hours, the court system needs to change its view of things. Lupo's unmitigated defiance and his breaking of environmental law can only be viewed as an act of eco-terrorism. Longer prison sentences need to be imposed for such violators. Otherwise, more of the same will result and only cause problems for those in the oil and gas industries who are playing by the rules and obeying all laws. Fossil fuels are here to stay for a while and oil companies that are good corporate citizens need to be protected from rogues and criminals like Lupo. Lupo should have received at least a 10-year sentence. What he did not only affected the Mahoning River Watershed, but the Ohio River Watershed and even the Mississippi River Watershed. In certain cases in which oil spills weren't deliberate and planned but still may be considered egregious in nature, our government and our society's opinions about viewing these atrocities needs to change, too. For example, the case of Joseph Hazelwood, who was the captain of the Exxon Valdez during its 1989 oil spill, goes far beyond being a case of negligence or "a mistake". Hazelwood was accused of being drunk during the time of this voyage, but was cleared of all wrongdoing during 1990 trial after witnesses testified that he was sober around the time of the accident. Hazelwood was convicted of a lesser charge, negligent discharge of oil (a misdemeanor), fined $50,000, and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service. There is no way the captain of such a large seafaring vessel with 53 million gallons of crude oil should have been given such a slap on the wrist. No way, no how. How can you validate a captain to be drunk during any time of such a voyage between Alaska and California? And if he was drinking the day of this massive spill, he was most likely still under some influence of his alcohol consumption. For those who have consumed a lot of alcohol, it can take between 10 to 15 hours to clear the body, according to a graph by The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

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Samuel Vargo worked as a full-time reporter and editor for more than 20 years at a number of daily newspapers and business journals. He was also an adjunct English professor at colleges and universities in Ohio, West Virginia, Mississippi (more...)

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