spill

West Virginians impacted by coal chemical spill need water

  • Posted on: 21 January 2014
  • By: JesseColeman

West Virginia Water Crisis: People in Need 10 Days Later

On January 9th, Freedom Industries, a company that stores chemicals for the coal industry, spilled 7,500 gallons of Crude Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM), a little known, little understood compound into the Elk river. The spill occurred one mile upriver from the water intake that supplies tap water for all of West Virginia's capital city of Charleston.

The thick oily chemical was pumped through the water system and into homes and businesses throughout the area, causing vomiting, skin problems, and diarrhea. Now, nearly two weeks since the disaster was discovered, the water has been deemed "safe to drink," though water from the tap still releases a sickly sweet chemical odor, especially when heated.

Pregnant women and children are still advised to drink bottled water, but very few people in the affected area are interested in drinking from the tap, with child or not. The tremendous need for potable water has led to the creation of the West Virginia Clean Water Hub, a community led effort to provide the people of Charleston and the outlying areas with bottled water, a need that government agencies have largely ignored. Sign this petition to demand justice for people whose water has been poisoned

So little is known about 4-MCHM that regulators didn't even know it's boiling point. Now scientists are scrambling to find out how the chemical reacts with the chlorine in the municipal water system, and whether the chemical has leached into water heaters and water pipes in people's homes. Authorities recommend that all pipes that have come in contact with the pollutant be flushed, including water heaters and outdoor faucets. However, West Virginia American Water, the company that owns the water treatment facility contaminated by the coal chemical, is only offering a 10 dollar credit (1000 gallons) to consumers. The cost of flushing homes will therefore fall on already struggling West Virginians, where poverty is rampant and Walmart is the largest single employer.

West Virginians still need fresh water. To donate visit Keeper of the Mountain Foundation.

The affected intake also supplies water to 9 counties surrounding Charleston, which contain multiple rural communities, like the small community of Pratt. Pratt was added to Charleston's municipal water system only two months ago. This was initially celebrated by the residents of Pratt, because it meant relief from the extremely poor quality water from local sources, which have been contaminated by Acid Mine Drainage, coal dust, and other coal industry impacts.

Water contamination from the coal industry is nothing new to West Virginians, who have lived with poisoned wells streams for generations. This spill, the latest and most dramatic in a long history of water contamination, exposes the problems of lax and inadequate regulation coupled with politicians that prioritizes the bottom line of the coal industry over the health and safety of people. The chemical 4-MCHM was exempted from federal laws that require disclosure. The tanks that held the chemical were not required to be inspected regularly, due to a loophole that exempted above ground tanks from inspection.

Crews continue to work on the site of contamination at Freedom Industries.

West Virginian politicians with close ties to the coal industry have continued to defend coal companies from federal and state regulation, even as 300,000 of their constituents went without drinkable water.  Speaking at an event hosted by the coal front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) last week,  Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s junior senator and former governor continued to defend the coal industry from reglation. “Coal and chemicals inevitably bring risk — but that doesn’t mean they should be shut down,” said Manchin. “Cicero says, ‘To err is human.’ But you’re going to stop living because you’re afraid of making a mistake?” Manchin has significant financial ties to the coal industry.

The current governor of West Virginia, Earl Ray Tomblin, was also quick to defend the coal industry. In a press conference days after the spill, he said "“This was not a coal company.  This was a chemical supplier where the leak occurred.  As far as I know, there are no coal mines within miles of this particular incident.” Governor Tomblin's remarks ignore the fact that many communities affected by this spill are only using municipal water because local sources have already been poisoned by coal extraction and use. Tomblin also ignored the fact that Freedom Industries' product is a necessary part of the coal extraction and burning process.

To donate water to West Virginians, please visit the Keeper of the Mountain Foundation.

To volunteer or request clean water, visit the West Virginia Clean Water Hub.

Wes Virginia coal chemical spill

 

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3 major scandals in 3 months, the latest about Keystone XL

  • Posted on: 22 July 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

Since it was first proposed in 2008 the argument for building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump tar sands crude oil from Canada to the Gulf coast for refining and export to foreign countries, has had some major holes. Literally.

Sunlight is visible through a faulty weld in the Keystone XL pipeline. Picture taken from inside a section of pipe by activists with Tar Sands Blockade

If approved, Keystone will pump a super-heated mixture of tar, sand, and chemicals from the most carbon polluting oil development on earth, while the effects of global warming manifest themselves across the country and the world. In order to mine and refine tar sands the oil industry must burn 1 barrel of oil for every 3 barrels of oil produced, a marvel of inefficiency. The potential builders of the Keystone XL have been caught in scandal after scandal in their attempts to get government and popular approval for the pipeline. The last few months have revealed the lengths that TransCanada (the company building the pipeline) and other Keystone proponents will go to secure approval for Keystone.

A tar sands mining pit in what was once boreal forest

Here are 3 of the most important Keystone XL Scandals that have been revealed since April:

1) The State Department doesn't know where the Keystone XL pipeline will be located

A year and a half ago, Thomas Bachand, a researcher mapping the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, asked the State Department - the agency responsible for approving the pipeline - for the coordinates of the Keystone XL. He hoped to accurately map the pipeline route so that people would know which waterways, neighborhoods, and back yards would be affected. After 14 months of waiting and haggling for what should have been an easy answer, the State Department admitted in June that they did not possess the GIS coordinates of the pipeline, and therefore did not know its exact route. Yet the State Department has promised that the Keystone XL would be environmentally safe and does not threaten water supplies in its path. From the Environmental Impact Study used by the State Department:

“A limited number of public water supply wells are located within one mile of the proposed pipeline area (39 along the entire route; Montana-1, South Dakota-0, Nebraska-38), and a very limited number of private water supply wells are located within 100 feet of the pipeline (Montana-6; South Dakota-0, Nebraska-14).”

But how would the State Department know how close the pipeline runs to water sources without knowing where the pipeline will run?

A tar sands spill from Exxon's pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas

2) The private contractors hired to gauge the environmental impact of the Keystone XL for the State Department work for TransCanada and other oil companies that would benefit from building the pipeline, a major conflict of interest that the State Department tried to hide.

The most recent Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of the Keystone XL was conducted by the oil industry contractor Environmental Resource Management (ERM). Since it's release, the study has been widely criticized for both its glaring oversights and questionable findings. For instance, the EIS claims that building the Keystone XL, a giant among pipelines, would not have any effect on greenhouse gas emissions or the development of the Athabasca tar sands, even though the entire purpose of building the KXL is to increase tar sands development. Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has questioned the trustworthiness of the study. As it turns out, ERM works for Transcanada, Koch Industries, Shell Oil, and other oil corporations that stand to benefit from building the Keystone XL. ERM is also a dues paying member of the American Petroleum Institute, which spent $22 million lobbying for the pipeline. Not only did the State Department know about these conflicts of interest, they redacted this information from public filings in an attempt to conceal the truth. ERM has a history of producing environmental studies that seem skewed toward befitting the oil companies that hire them. In March of this year, ERM released a study claiming that a tar sands refinery in Delaware made the air around the plant cleaner. The study, which was funded by the tar sands refinery in question, was challenged by independent air quality studies that found Benzene and other cancer-causing compounds far in excess of EPA standards. As the News Journal explains:

"Air-quality tests commissioned by a Delaware City citizens group show a jump in local chemical, soot and sulfur levels after the opening of the Delaware City refinery, with at least three toxic pollutants exceeding some public health limits in one spot a mile from the plant"

3) Obama Administration insiders have significant ties to TransCanada, which the company has tried to exploit.

As was recently reported by Steve Horn at DeSmog Blog, President Obama’s personal attorney, former White House Counsel Robert Bauer, has direct ties to TransCanada. Bauer works for Perkins Coie LLP, a major corporate law firm which represents TransCanada’s South Central LNG project. Furthermore, Robert Baur's wife, Anita Dunn, is the co-owner of the PR firm SDKnickerbocker, which handles public relations work for TransCanada. Dunn, who was a Communications Director for Obama and Senior Adviser for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, has met with top Obama administration officials more than 100 times since leaving in 2009, according to a recent New York Times investigation. However, Robert Bauer and Anita Dunn are just the latest tie between TransCanada and US regulators to be uncovered. TransCanada and the government of Alberta, Canada have purposefully stacked their ranks with lobbyists that have ties to the Obama administration and/or John Kerry, who is now in charge of the State Department. From Friends of the Earth:

The Financial Times has found that Alberta made a point to hire former Obama officials and Kerry staff in order to win approval from the State Department instead of focusing on Congress like most lobby groups. TransCanada and Alberta’s lobbyists have been trying to convince the administration that the pipeline will create jobs and pose no threats to the environment, in the hopes that they can get the pipeline approved.

TransCanada also snapped up people leaving the State Department to help grease the wheels of approval for Keystone XL within the State Department. From Businessweek:

David Goldwyn, an aide to Hillary Clinton, was something of a mole for TransCanada, coaching the company’s executives on how to win favor at State with “better messaging.” After leaving the State Department, Goldwyn testified before Congress in favor of Keystone XL.

These latest 3 scandals are just the most recent examples of the extent to which TransCanada and other Keystone XL boosters have manipulated the approval system in favor of the pipeline. Help stop the Keystone XL and protect the families and water sources in it's path by telling President Obama not to approve pipeline. Sign the petition here.

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US Gov't doesn't know exact Keystone XL pipeline route

  • Posted on: 8 July 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

The U.S. government doesn't know exactly where TransCanada wants to lay pipe for the northern section of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, according to the results of a 14-month Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. State DepartmentIn its final answer to a FOIA request by Thomas Bachand of the Keystone Mapping Project, the State Department admitted:

Neither Cardno ENTRIX nor TransCanada ever submitted GIS information to the Department of State, nor was either corporation required to do so. The information that you request, if it exists, is therefore neither physically nor constructively under the control of the Department of State and we are therefore unable to comply with your FOIA request.

Yes, you read that right. The U.S. State Department published its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)--supposedly an official account of the potential hazards of TransCanada's proposed pipeline on U.S. waterways, wildlife and other major considerations like global climate change--without knowing exactly where TransCanada wants to dig. Check out the full letter from State to Mr. Bachand at the Keystone Mapping Project.

Ongoing Conflicts of Interest in State Department Environmental Assessments

The State Department is already facing legitimate criticism for contracting companies with ties to TransCanada and other oil companies for its environmental impact estimates, which the Environmental Protection Agency has slammed for being "insufficient." State looked no further than oil industry contractors to run the draft SEIS--companies like Cardno ENTRIX, which calls TransCanada a "major client," and ERM Resources, a dues paying member of the American Petroleum Institute which is being investigated by the State Department's Inspector General for trying to hide its prior consulting for fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell. In fact, TransCanada chose ERM Resources to do the Keystone XL SEIS review for the State Department, and one of ERM's people working on the review was formerly employed by TransCanada. 

TransCanada has stacked the deck, wagering American waterways and private property against the promise to profit from continued extraction of dirty tar sands petroleum.

Tar Sands Pipelines Spill

The potential is too high for Keystone XL to leak just like TransCanada's existing Keystone I pipeline has repeatedly done, or rupture like ExxonMobil's Pegasus tar sands pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas earlier this year, or Enbridge's tar sands pipeline spill in the Kalamazoo River. The southern leg of Keystone XL is already under construction, and the if the cracks, dents and other faults in the 'new' pipe are any indication, pollution from oil spills looks inevitable. Beyond being a disaster waiting to happen, KXL guarantees the continued disaster that is tar sands mining, a process that has already poisoned entire regions--and peoples' communities--in northern Alberta, Canada.

With President Obama's recently unveiled Climate Action Plan, it would be a limp gesture to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. You'd think with the State Department having its environmental analysis run by oil industry consultants, they'd listen to the oil industry's own guarantees that Keystone XL would increase demand for tar sands mining. That's bad news for our climate -- something the State Department cannot ignore if they do a reasonable review of the "unprecedented" amount of public comments on its draft SEIS on KXL.

What remains to be seen is if the State Department will be reasonable in the last leg of its review, or if it will continue letting TransCanada and Big Oil control the process to the bitter end.

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New Documents show Exxon knew of contamination from the Maryflower oil spill, still claimed lake was "oil-free"

  • Posted on: 21 May 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

On March 29 ExxonMobil, the most profitable company in the world, spilled at least 210,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from an underground pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. The pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada, which flooded family residences in Mayflower in thick tarry crude. Exxon’s tar sands crude also ran into Lake Conway, which sits about an eighth of a mile from where Exxon’s pipeline ruptured.

The cove of Lake Conway which Exxon claimed was "oil-free"

A new batch of documents received by Greenpeace in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has revealed that Exxon downplayed the extent of the contamination caused by the ruptured pipeline. Records of emails between Arkansas’ DEQ and Exxon depict attempts by Exxon to pass off press releases with factually false information. In a draft press release dated April 8, Exxon claims "Tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free." However, internal emails from April 6 show Exxon knew of significant contamination across Lake Conway and the cove resulting from the oil spill.

When the chief of Arkansas Hazardous Waste division called Exxon out on this falsehood, Exxon amended the press release. However, they did not amend it to say that oil was in Lake Conway and contaminant levels in the lake were rising to dangerous levels, as they knew to be the case. Instead, they continue to claim that Lake Conway is "oil-free." For the record, Exxon maintains that the "cove," a section of Lake Conway that experienced heavy oiling from the spill, is not part of the actual lake. Exxon maintains this distinction in spite of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saying unequivocally "The cove is part of Lake Conway…The water is all part of one body of water." Furthermore, Exxon water tests confirmed that levels of Benzene and other contaminants rose throughout the lake, not just in the cove area.

Though Exxon was eventually forced to redact their claim that the cove specifically was  "oil-free," the oil and gas giant has yet to publicly address the dangerous levels of Benzene and other contaminants their own tests have found in the body of Lake Conway. The Environmental Protection Agency and the American Petroleum Institute don’t agree on everything, but they do agree that the only safe level of Benzene, a cancer causing chemical found in oil, is zero. Benzene is added to tar sands oil to make it less viscous and flow more easily through pipelines.  Local people have reported fish kills, chemical smells, nausea and headaches. Independent water tests have found a host of contaminants present in the lake.

Dead fish in Palarm creek, which Lake Conway drains into. Palarm creek is a tributary of the Arkansas River.

According to Exxon’s data, 126,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from the pipeline spill is still unaccounted for.

Exxon's spill emanated from the Pegasus Pipeline, which like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, connects the Canadian Tar Sands with refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Is Exxon trying to hide the effects from their tar sands pipeline spill?

  • Posted on: 4 April 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

 

Greenpeace photo of Exxon's Tar Sands oil spill, before the No-Fly zone was established

Sure seems like it. According to reports from the ground, Exxon is in full control of the response to the thousands of barrels of tar sands oil that began spilling from Exxon's ruptured pipeline in Arkansas last weekend. The skies above the spill has been deemed a no-fly zone, and all requests for aerial photos must be approved by Exxon’s own “aviation advisor” Tom Suhrhoff.

In addition, the entire area has been cordoned off and news media have been prevented from inspecting the spill zone.

Now, Exxon is trying to limit access to the animals impacted by the tar sands crude. A wildlife management company hired by Exxon has taken over all oiled wild animal care. The company, called Wildlife Response Services, is now refusing to release pictures and documentation of the animals in their care, unless they are authorized by Exxon’s public relations department.

A dead American Coot covered in oil from Exxon's Pegasus Pipeline

The spill, which leaked heavy, viscous tar sands oil, emanates from the Pegasus Pipeline, which was built in the 1940’s. The pipeline pumps diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, just like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. However, the Pegasus is much smaller, carrying 90,000 barrels per day (BPD), while the Keystone would carry 800,000 BPD. Tar Sands oil is shipped through pipelines in the form of Diluted Bitumen (Dilbit), which must be heated and forced through the pipeline at high pressure. Due to the corrosive nature of the tar sands oil, which contains sand, plus the high temperature and high pressure needed to pump it through the  pipes, tar sands oil pipelines are particularly dangerous.

Exxon’s control of the oil spill response is reminiscent of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, when the polluter, BP, effectively controlled the response and cleanup.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sMQCj9UHCpM

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