Leaks and spills of Canadian oil are happening now at a critical time-

Back in 1989, all the political gears and levers were greased with money and Astroturf public opinion to approve leasing the National Arctic Wildlilfe Refuge for Oil Drilling.  Today we seem to be at a similar juncture.

In 1989 the political players didn’t suspect that the Exxon Corp. had failed to repair the radar on its giant oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez which was carrying Alaskan Crude from the end terminus of the Alaskan Pipeline at Valdez, AK into Prince William Sound. Steering the vessel was the third mate while the captain was in his bed sleeping off a drunk. When the tanker hit Bligh Reef and spilled its guts into the ocean, the dreams of the oil lobby and President George Bush the First turned nightmarish and the lied to public grew angry. The Arctic Wildlife Refuge was saved.

Americans had been told that with the new technology and the excellent safety standards this couldn’t happen. Not surprising in retrospect, a considerable number of safety standards were being violated at the time (see appendix)

Now Americans are being told the same thing about building the American leg of the Keystone XL pipeline to move the heavy crude oil (bitumen) from the hellish tar sands mines of central Alberta down through the states for transport overseas. “It’s safe and will create 400,000 jobs,” say the lobbyists hired not to tell the truth.

The stakes are higher this time, than in 1989. Some say the future of the planet is at stake, not just wildlife and large parcels of land.

Yesterday the U.S. Senate, led by Republicans, approved a symbolic go ahead for the project being pushed hard by Canada’s and Alberta’s right wing governments. President Obama’s political war chest is growing fat with donations from both sides of the issue.  Read Poll: President Obama voters don’t want Keystone.  How he decides on this issue will show if he means to do support his base.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department which must formally approve the pipeline says that while the pipeline will create 40-thousand, not 400-thousand jobs, just 35!! of them will be permanent.

Perhaps most significant is this — like with the Exxon Valdez, two oil spills of Canadian oil in just one week are doing more damage to the cause of oil money than the grassroots opposition from conservationists. The Mayflower, Arkansas area pipeline leak looks like it will very damaging to the sport fishery/ 

Read Canadian Pacific rail spill highlights oil transportation debate. The Globe and Mail (Canada). By Guy Dixon.
Also read  Exxon cleans up Arkansas oil spill; Keystone plan assailed because Exxon is still having damaging oil ruptures after all these years. Reuters.

Addition: Early reports said the oil had not flowed into Lake Conway at Mayflower, Arkansas, but it is beginning. If you look on Google Earth, it is easy to see Lake Conway is an important lake. It is the largest reservoir developed by a state wildlife agency in the United States, now being polluted by Canadian tar sands crude. Despite industry talk of high tech and safety, the pipeline that leaked while carrying Canadian tar sands crude was built in the 1940s. The crude (bitumen) had dilutents (unspecified) to allow the stiff, sticky, sort-of-oil, able to flow.

Addition 4-1-2013: “If President Obama blocks the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all, he’ll do Canada a favor.” From New York Times, op ed. The Tar Sands Disaster. By Thomas Homer-Dixon in Waterloo, Ontario. Canada. Published: March 31, 2013

Addition 4-2-2013Arkansas’ Oil Spill Stirs Opposition to the Keystone Pipeline. By Amy Harder. The National Journal.

– – – –

Addendum: Violation of safety procedures and other factors leading to the Exxon Valdez disaster (paraphrased from the Wikipedia)

Multiple factors have been identified as contributing to the incident:

1. Beginning three days after the vessel grounded, a storm pushed large quantities of fresh oil on to the rocky shores of many of the beaches in the Knight Island chain.

2. Exxon Shipping Company failed to supervise the master and provide a rested and sufficient crew for Exxon Valdez. The NTSB found this was widespread throughout the industry, prompting a safety recommendation to Exxon and to the industry. The third mate failed to properly maneuver the vessel, possibly due to fatigue or excessive workload.

3. Exxon Shipping Company failed to properly maintain the Raytheon Collision Avoidance System (RAYCAS) radar, which, if functional, would have indicated to the third mate an impending collision with the Bligh Reef by detecting the “radar reflector”, placed on the next rock inland from Bligh Reef for the purpose of keeping boats on course via radar.

4. Tanker crews were not told that the previous practice of the Coast Guard tracking ships out to Bligh reef had ceased.

5. The oil industry promised, but never installed, state-of-the-art iceberg monitoring equipment

6. Exxon Valdez was sailing outside the normal sea lane to avoid small icebergs thought to be in the area.

7. The 1989 tanker crew was half the size of the 1977 crew, worked 12–14 hour shifts, plus overtime. The crew was rushing to leave Valdez with a load of oil.

8. Coast Guard tanker inspections in Valdez were not done, and the number of staff was reduced.

9. Lack of available equipment and personnel hampered the spill cleanup.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

18 Responses to GOP, oil companies pressure to approve Keystone XL pipeline (update 2)

  1. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    What should Obama and John Kerry ask for —no , DEMAND — in exchange for approving Keystone XL ?

    I have some considerations, not the least of which is a Carbon Tax so Americans begin to pay the true cost of fossil fuels at every station of the cross. But it’s a long list.

    Anyone wanna go first ? What is approval of Keystone XL contingent upon ?

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Cody Coyote,

      If Obama approves it and hopes for nothing more than good will from the Republicans — if he receives nothing big and concrete — he will be one of the most inept politicians to ever inhabit the White House, IMO.

      I would think that John Kerry would pressure him not to approve this thing unless return benefits to the Administration are huge.

      Personally, I hope Obama tries to kill it as well as all the dirty oil leaking in around the edges, such as on the railroads.

      • avatar timz says:

        “if he receives nothing big and concrete — he will be one of the most inept politicians to ever inhabit the White House, IMO”

        JB, Obama apologist time, your up.

        • avatar JB says:

          Sorry, Timmy–not my job. I will make one point related to this conversation: I searched the White Houses petition site and signon.org for Keystone pipeline-related petitions. Couldn’t find any at the White Houses site and though signon.org had several, none had more than 1,000 signatures (and they were all over the place). If you guys want to send a message, I suggest you get cracking. 😉

      • avatar sleepy says:

        What would he want in return?

        The repubs and dems are on the same page on this. They both want to be dealmakers to the elite, and have safe and very secure retirements.

        You should note that the State Department has decided not to allow public access to public comments during the 45 day period which began March 1. You can make a comment, you just can’t view the comments of others apparently including the comments of government agencies.

        Who did Obama’s state department hire to manage the comments? Environmental Resources Management–a consulting firm that has worked for TransCanada. They also were involved in State’s draft of its environmental impact paper.

        Obama is not dumb or clueless. He is extremely skilled at portraying himself as a progressive, which he is not.

        http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2013/03/28/public-comments-on-keystone-xl-pipeline-to-be-kept-secret-by-state-department/

        • avatar JB says:

          “He is extremely skilled at portraying himself as a progressive, which he is not.”

          Okay, I’ll take the bait on this one. I think it’s silly to assign dichotomous, all-or-none descriptors to politicians. There is no question that Obama is progressive on some issues (e.g., gay rights, “green” energy); however, he has also been forced to be politically pragmatic (i.e., willing to “deal”) on others. Saying Obama is not progressive because SOME few of his energy policies don’t align with environmentalists is like saying George Bush wasn’t conservative because he supported immigration reform.

          Hey Timmy, am I a GWB apologist now too? LOL!

          • avatar sleepy says:

            The dichotomy that I don’t buy is the one where dems and repubs position themselves for marketing purposes as differing substantially on economic or foreign policy.

            Coke or pepsi.

            To me, we are in Bush’s 4th term.

  2. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    Wow. I knew it was bad back then, but I hadn’t realized there were so many safety procedures that were ignored, along with the drunk captain on the Valdez. What a mess, and the BP spill was even worse. Now we’ve got the Canadian Tar Sands mess. I don’t know what to say about our relentless energy needs – it’s not going to get any better. It seems no matter what we do, it’s going to have a negative impact because our population is so large.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Ida,

      What is doubly irritating to me is that this filthy oil is merely being transported across. It is not for use here. Its supporters like to imply the dirty crude is a vital resource for America, but it is for export.

      It is much less expensive to bring it through the U.S. than out the Arctic or through British Columbia.

      • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

        It is perhaps the world’s dirtiest fuel. It should not be developed.

        • avatar Zach says:

          Just like the coal export BS we’re dealing with in the Pacific Northwest. Selling it off to Asia is garbage.

          • avatar Wolfy says:

            Just like the coal in the NW issue, we’re being sold this idea that shipping 60% of our trees to China, building LNG terminals and pipelines to ship NG to China are in the best interest of the US. And somehow there is a AstroTurf “timber boom” here. We’re becoming China’s biotch.

            • avatar Zach says:

              We’re going to have to start paying all that debt off that we owe to them somehow and someway…

  3. avatar Louise Kane says:

    The oil and oil transportation industries are very much like the gun, cattle and agriculture industries. They fight any reform tooth and nail making it very difficult to support any kind of oil development. Back in 1996 I was working as a policy analyst in Rhode Island when the North Cape grounded. You could not believe the string of events that led to this catastrophic spill. My friend and I were charged with drafting legislation to prevent other spills from occurring in RI. We drafted a state based initiative that asked for some very simple measures like requiring fire suppression equipment on board, using local tug boat pilots, creating a restoration fund in the event of a spill and earlier phase in for double hulled vessels. There was significant evidence that single hulled vessels were most likely to rupture and that a double hull could prevent a spill. The American Waterways Operators fought the most common sense regulations arguing that any control would shut them down…blah blah blah. To make a long story short the law we drafted was argued in the Supreme Court (and we lost because the requirement for the double hull supreceded OPA but we accomplished what we wanted, RI enacted a much tougher regulatory scheme and most NE states used that legislation as a model. Bottom line can not trust these industries to comply with federal regs, to move quickly in clean up, or to be able to clean up. I attached a link to a law review article I co wrote about the North Cape incident. http://mainelaw.maine.edu/academics/oclj/pdf/vol04_2/vol4_oclj_209.pdf

    • avatar Mark L says:

      Sounds like a lot of the industry’s upper management (and employees) could use some Human Factors training.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Louise Kane,

      And this is why when it comes to Arctic drilling, oil pipelines carrying heavy crude, and so forth, that so many people don’t think “will there be a leak or a spill?” Instead, they think, “when will it leak and how much?”

  4. avatar Richie G. says:

    John Kerry will not do a thing, like he did in his own election, he ran. As for JB’s comment, Mike Papantonio “ring of fire” said somewhat the same thing. The people on the left are all over the place for their individual causes. They do not pull together, in essence they are over the place. Louise you really did a great thing and I might say very high profile IMHO. I heard people write of double hulled tankers long ago, and we are still at the same place. Once I think it was a tanker who got into another accident, went on fire right under the Verrazano bridge, wow what a sight.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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