Plains Justice Report: Pipeline Emergency Response Plans Dangerously Inadequate

A volunteer prepares to clean oil from the feathers of a heavily-oiled Canada goose at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Marshall, Michigan (Photo credit: US EPA).

Today Plains Justice released a first-of-its-kind report showing that TransCanada’s emergency response plan and on-the-ground spill defense preparations for the Keystone pipeline system are inadequate to respond to a serious spill along the thousands of miles of buried pipeline already in place or currently proposed in the northern Great Plains. No other publicly available report provides this level of detailed spill response analysis for tar sand pipeline infrastructure in the U.S.

Recent tar sands pipeline spills like the Enbridge spill in Michigan strongly suggest that TransCanada’s new high capacity, high pressure pipelines across the American heartland require greater, not lesser, safety and spill response measures. Unfortunately, based on extensive review of data, Plains Justice concludes that this kind of planning is not in place for the Keystone system.

The report describes serious deficiencies in the emergency response planning implemented by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. In many areas of the country, stricter EPA or U.S. Coast Guard regulations provide higher levels of spill defense. But in the Great Plains states, PHMSA’s jurisdiction leaves gaps in response coverage.

August 1, 2010 - Oiled vegetation upstream of Ceresco Dam, Michigan after pipeline spill (Photo credit: US EPA)

In the upper plains in particular, inadequate spill response equipment is located at such distances from tar sands pipelines that the speed of emergency response anticipated by TransCanada in its environmental planning documents is unrealistic. Local infrastructure in geographically remote, non-industrial areas of the northern plains is inadequate to support the kind of spill response activities that proved necessary to contain the large Enbridge spill before it reached Lake Michigan.

The report concludes with a number of detailed recommendations for improvements both in the federal regulatory process and in TransCanada’s planning efforts. The BP Gulf spill demonstrates the importance of planning for all contingencies and having necessary specialized equipment on the ground and ready to go.  The oil industry has great confidence in its technical abilities and resources, but it nonetheless needs to plan for the worst so that it can minimize damage through a quick and effective response.  Quick response requires both good planning and pre-positioning of significant amounts of spill response resources.

More than 700 concerned residents filled the Marshall, Mich., high school to learn more about the government response to the Enbridge oil spill. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Lauren Jorgensen and US EPA.)

Areas that have suffered through oil spills, such as Alaska and the Gulf Coast, have large amounts of equipment and personnel ready to go.  The northern Great Plains does not. The kind of emergency response in Michigan that prevented the even greater disaster of an oil spill reaching Lake Michigan was only possible because of relatively quick emergency response – a response that would not be logistically possible under current planning for the northern Great Plains portion of the Keystone pipeline system. This report is intended to promote good planning and an appropriate commitment of industry resources to the northern Great Plains, so that the industry can limit the damage caused by spills – and not just mop up its mistakes.

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9 Responses to Plains Justice Report: Pipeline Emergency Response Plans Dangerously Inadequate

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  3. Dawn Suter says:

    Is Plains Justice doing any advocacy regarding the pipeline and plant in South Dakota?
    If not, can you tell us who is.

    • Hello Dawn, thanks for asking! Yes, Plains Justice continues to do a lot of work with groups and individuals along the proposed Keystone XL route through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. We’re also supporting groups in Oklahoma and Texas. We’re providing legal representation in agency proceedings, producing reports like the one that came out today, putting out public information, and participating with a large coalition to get the word out about tar sands and the pipeline risks on the Great Plains. Find out more on our Tar Sands Pipelines blog.

  4. Kelly Nelson says:

    OSE II the non toxic alternative that can actually address 100% of a spill. The major oil companies are relentless in their use of outdated antiquated spill response technology such as dispersants, and mechanical clean up devices.
    The BP spill proved that dispersants are toxic, increase the toxicity to spilled oil and merely sink oil contaminating the water column where 60% of marine species live. The oil then migrates to the seabed destroying bottom dwellers, the oil is pushed onto the shoreline by currents destroying even more natural resources, where the same oil has to be addressed a second time. For a dispersant to be deemed effective by the EPA it has to sink 45% of the oil in 30 minutes, dispersants do not have to clean up anything, and they do not.
    Dispersants lead to death of marine and wildlife species, compromise human health, destroy natural resources, cause numerous litigation cases, prolong the time the oil is in the environment, and their end point is ZERO. Dispersants ultimately cost the spiller enormous amount of money above what the original spilled could have caused, due to spreading the impact of the oil to additional areas of an eco system creating additional damages for a spill response that gains nothing.
    Mechanical clean up makes for a great show of effort, however it is a failed effort, since in calm seas the most mechanical clean ups perform, is they clean up 2 to 8% of the oil leaving the other 92 to 98% of the oil to adversely effect the environment, and destroy natural resources.
    Mechanical clean up devices clean up very little oil, allow natural resource damages, and lead to numerous litigation cases. The spiller would almost be better off just doing nothing, since they have to pay for all the damages anyway, and if the waves are above 2 feet they would only get 2% of a spill, which is negligible. The cost to stage, and activate mechanical clean up is enormous, and gains very little.
    Dispersants and mechanical clean ups, by causing or allowing natural resource destruction, allows a spill areas economics to be adversely effected which causes more law suites, adding to the cost of the spilled oils clean up.
    There are absorbents that can absorb, however on the open ocean and in marshes, estuaries, and beaches they accomplish very little as well; and as Exxon discovered on their Yellowstone river spill the absorbents just created secondary clean up problems since they now have to handle the absorbents with oil. The spill was able to migrate to cover over 240 miles of shoreline, which OSE II could have prevented.
    There is a non toxic alternative, which has cleaned up over 16000 spills since 1989, OSE II. OSE II once applied, immediately starts to lessen the toxicity of oil, and prevents the spill from migrating to additional areas of the eco system, by causing oil to float. OSE II also reduces the adhesion properties to prevent the inevitable picture of some poor bird covered in oil. OSE II, to get on EPA’s NCP approved list had to prove it converted oil to CO2 and water. OSE II also accomplished this when BP tested OSE II on their Deep Horizon spilled oil with Correxit attached to it. OSE II converted the alkanes the less toxic part of the oil, and the most persistent toxic part of the oil the PAH’s and the toxic Corexit dispersants in BP test.
    OSE II protects the responders, since you can handle OSE II with your bear hands without compromising health, and by preventing the destruction of natural resources, this in turn prevents economic loss, and this all reduces or eliminates law suites. A cost comparison for the BP spill response was carried out showing had BP utilized OSE II they could have saved over 25,000,000,000.00$ US.
    The BP stockholders meeting in April 2011, reported that BP had spent approximately 28,000,000,000.00$ US on the Gulf spill. You take this and divide it by, the 200,000,000.00$ Us BP admitted spilling, and they have spent 140.00$ US per gallon spilled, and BP is no where near finished with the clean up, since there are enormous plumes, tar mats, gallons of oil on the seabed floor, and oil in the marshes.
    The cost for OSE II is 2.00$ US to clean up each gallon spilled oil and the application for OSE II is approximately 2.00$ US as well. Take the 200,000,000.00$ times 4.00$ US, and the clean up cost for 100% of the spill would have been 800,000,000.00$ US with the application of OSE II. This would have also limited the economic devastation, the natural resource destruction, seafood problems, compromised human health, and law suites, as well as the time it takes to finish the job.
    OSE II the 100% biodegradable, product that makes the oil biodegradable and converts oil to CO2 water. OSE II utilizes mother natures own process, however the OSEI Corporation developed OSE II to convert oil/hydrocarbons to CO2 and water in a matter of days to a few weeks, instead of decades as the Valdez spill has proven. OSE II requires a one time application, and prevents the direct contact with responders.
    OSE II is the clearly the best choice for the environment, humans, marine species, and wildlife, as well as the entire flora and fauna. The reduction in the cost of the clean up, damages, and risk with OSE II makes it an easy choice.

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