Keystone XL Pipeline: 2 Oil Spills in 1 Week Raises Questions About Pipeline Safety


A river of thick black sludge carved a path of destruction through the town of Mayflower, Ark., earlier this week, as an estimated 84,000 gallons of crude oil spilled in just 45 minutes. Forty homes were evacuated for safety reasons and the smell of oil filled the town.

This wasn’t just any oil destroying homes and killing wildlife, this was Canadian crude oil from the Tar Sands region. The same oil that the oil industry has been arguing is perfectly safe to pipe from Canada’s Alberta region down to Texas, over thousands of miles of American heartland and over one of the Midwest’s largest natural water reserves, the Ogallala aquifier.

The oil the Pegasus pipeline was carrying is called Wabasaca Heavy Crude, which is sourced from the Alberta Tar Sands region. Wasaba Heavy Crude is a type of diluted bitumen or dilbit, and is heavier and stickier than conventional oil. This makes it harder to clean than a conventional oil spill, leading to ongoing problems cleaning riverbeds from the 2010 tar sands oil spill in Kalamazoo, Mich. This isn’t the first time Tar Sands oil has spilled and created an environmental mess for an American town.

In fact, Arkansas wasn’t even the first time this week that Tar Sands oil spilled. Earlier this week a train derailed carrying oil from Canada into Minnesota, dumping 30,000 gallons of oil, calling into question if there is any way to safely move Tar Sands oil into the U.S. According to a recent report issued by the National Resource Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the National Wildlife Federation, dilbit is more corrosive than conventional oil and is an acidic and potentially unstable blend of thick bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate. Due to Dilbit’s corrosive properties new U.S. safety regulations are needed before any new pipelines are built, and certainly before one as large as Keystone XL should even be considered.

A petition filed this week by the National Wildlife Federation, and signed by 29 environmental and community groups, demands a moratorium on pending Tar Sands pipelines, including Keystone XL, until regulators can establish new regulations ensuring the safety of the pipelines,  

As the Obama administration weighs a decision on the proposed pipeline there are a variety of factors to consider. The dangers to indigenous communities that the tar sands oil poses as communities in Fort Chipewyan experience a 30% rise in rare cancers. The Cornell study thoroughly debunking the overblown jobs claims that Trans Canada oil executives use to attempt to manipulate a job starved American public. The fact that bitumen causes twice the amount of greenhouse gas per barrel of conventional gas because of the enormous amount of resources needed to process it.

The over 140 nonviolent direct actions taken in opposition to the pipeline by ordinary citizens with Tar Sands Blockade, including a 45 day hunger strike. Environmental scientists are sounding the alarm that the massive pipeline could be a disastrous tipping point for global warming, with NASA scientist James Hansen calling it “game over for climate change.”  

Among all this information, all of the debates, and all of the reasons why the president should reject this dangerous and environmentally devastating project, let it not be forgotten that this week forty American families were displaced from their homes and a small town in Arkansas was left to cope with an environmental catastrophe.

As a country, we can do better. We can do right by those families by ensuring that no one loses another home to the special interest of dirty oil. We can invest in clean, safe, sustainable energy and leave Tar Sands oil where it belongs — underground and out of the U.S.