What you need to know about public health and safety risks from Utah’s refineries

*For a complete discussion of the health affects of pollution see “The Health Consequences of Air Pollution” on this site, under the heading Pollution and Health. References for this summary are listed at the end.

1. According the Utah DAQ’s official documents the refineries as a group are the second largest industrial source of pollution after Rio Tinto/Kennecott (RTK) in Salt Lake and Davis Counties. Specifically, RTK is responsible for about 30% of Salt Lake County’s overall air pollution. The Holly oil refinery itself emits about one fifth the amount emitted by RTK. Chevron and Tesoro each emit about 60% of what Holly does. However, see item #6 below. There is strong evidence that these official numbers severely underestimate the refineries emissions which are likely many times larger than those official numbers.
2. The refineries represent a serious safety risk. From 2000 to 2010 Utah’s five refineries have reported fires, explosions, chemical releases and spill, both large and small, on average once every nine days. Numerous serious fires and explosions have occurred in the last few years including one that damaged 271 homes on Nov. 4, 2009.

The safety risks are industry wide and nation wide. A letter from the US Dept of Labor to all the country’s refinery managers said, “In the last fifteen years, the petroleum refining industry has had more fatal or catastrophic incidents related to the release of highly hazardous chemicals (HHCs) than any other industry sector…We are particularly concerned that our inspection teams are seeing many of the same problems repeatedly.”

Rafael Moure-Eraso, the Chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, said, ““We have a problem with the refinery industry. We have decreasing staff levels, disinvestment in safety, a lack of training, and accidents or near-misses — indicators of catastrophe — being ignored.” U.S. refineries have sustained financial losses from accidents at a rate much higher than their overseas counterparts — four times as high, according to a 2006 report by Swiss Re, the world’s second-largest reinsurer. They indicated that the gap between refineries and those in other parts of the world was widening.

Russ Elveston, a forensic engineer and safety consultant retired from OSHA said, “All the units are working at higher capacity, higher pressure, higher throughput…hazards have increased simply because the units operating now produce more than they did 15 or 20 years ago. When there’s a release, the results tend to be a little more significant.” On April 2, 2010 the Chemical Safety Board Chairman John Bresland said, “The CSB has 18 ongoing investigations. Of those, seven of these accidents occurred at refineries across the country. This is a significant and disturbing trend that the refining industry needs to address immediately.” Michael Silverstein, head of the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health and a former federal OSHA policy director said, “The regulatory scheme at both the state and federal levels is flawed. Right now, it’s a catch-me-if-you-can system, and the consequences of being caught are relatively small.”

According to a 2012 report from the Center for Public Integrity, refinery workers describe, “a climate in which safety takes a back seat to ramped-up production. Rather than schedule top-to-bottom maintenance outages, which take units out of operation for extended periods, equipment is being pushed hard, sometimes beyond its design life, the workers say. They have a term for it: ‘Run to failure.’”

“They’re managing their shareholders’ investments,” Dave Campbell, secretary-treasurer of United Steelworkers Local 675, which represents workers at five refineries in the Los Angeles area, said of the oil companies. “The price we pay is with our lives and our health.”

Despite a special inspection program launched by OSHA in 2007 — and mirrored by most states that have their own safety programs — problems continue to occur at refineries with stunning regularity. 24 of the 58 refineries examined by federal officials as of November 2010 had fires or explosions after the inspections were completed.

According to a 2010 City Weekly article, Utah refinery workers say, “Mind-numbing overtime is frequently part of the internal inspections because the operators lose profits while the facility is not in production. “Overtime is now the norm, much of it forced.” California maintains a steady presence at refineries rather than simply dropping in, inspecting and writing citations. Utah officially inspects refineries once a year, but many refinery workers say even that doesn’t happen.

3. Tesoro has had even more serious recent safety lapses. On Oct. 21, 2009 the SLC Tesoro refinery had a flare stack explosion. According to a refinery engineer who has consulted with UPHE that is a manifestation of severe incompetence, comparable to a surgeon amputating the wrong limb.

After a fire at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington April 2, 2010 that killed seven workers…an investigation revealed the exchanger that blew apart was put into service in 1972. Tesoro last examined welds on the device in 1998. This was the only time in the exchanger’s 38-year life that such an inspection had taken place. Moreover, it found, Tesoro had tested fewer than 20 percent of the welds and focused on areas least susceptible to damage. Company records indicate that a planned 2008 inspection by Tesoro never took place.

Washington issued the highest fine in the history of the state against Tesoro as a result of this explosion. Judy Schurke, director of the Washington state agency that overseas workplace safety and health said, “This explosion and the deaths of these men and women would never have occurred had Tesoro tested their equipment in a manner consistent with standard industry practices, their own policies and state regulations.” Lynne Baker, spokeswoman for the United Steelworkers, said, “The industry has known that to prevent such an incident from happening, any type of equipment in contact with high temperature hydrogen has to be maintained and inspected more so than in other processes. This was a preventable accident.”

4. Three of Utah’s refineries still use one of the most deadly chemicals known in large quantities even though there are safer alternatives that two thirds of the nation’s refineries have adopted. Despite decades-old warnings about the potential for mass casualties, 50 refineries across the nation still rely on a toxic chemcial known as hydrofluoric acid, or HF. At least 16 million Americans live in the potential path of HF if it were to be released in an accident or a terrorist attack, according to refinery owners’ worst case scenario reports.

Known for its ability to race long distances in a cloud, HF is extremely toxic. It causes lung congestion, inflammation and severe burns of the skin and digestive tract. It attacks the eyes and bones. Experiments in 1986 detected the acid at potentially deadly levels five miles from the point of release. In Utah Chevron, Flying J and Holly all use HF. The EPA requires that every refinery that uses HF calculate what a worst case scenario would look like if an accident involving HF occurred at their refinery. Chevron calculated that 1.1 million people would be at risk and the potential radius of exposure would be 22 miles. For Flying J, it was 376,000 people at risk with a radius of exposure of 11 miles. For Holly it was 216,294 people at risk with a radius of 11 miles.

On October 30, 1987, at Marathon Petroleum Company’s Texas City refinery. A piece of equipment came loose and fell on a vessel containing HF. Over the next 44 hours, tens of thousands of pounds of HF gushed out, drifting into nearby residential areas and forcing the evacuation of 4,000 people. More than 1,000 people went to the hospital. Nationally, there have been at least 29 fires at 23 refineries that use HF since the beginning of 2009. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board called a July 2009 explosion at Citgo Petroleum Corp.’s Corpus Christi, Texas, refinery “a significant near-miss” for a widespread release of highly toxic hydrogen fluoride (HF) into a community.

Trucks entering Utah’s “refinery row” are also carrying HF which puts the local community at serious risk from a possible trucking accident.

5. Oil refinery emissions are higher inside homes near refineries than outside those homes. Toxic pollution from oil refineries doesn’t stay outside, it seeps into nearby homes, and builds up. You can say that residents of South Davis County breathe refinery pollution with every breath they take.

6. Nationwide refinery emissions are many times greater than what is reported to government agencies and the EPA knows it. According to the Associated Press, April 22, 2010, “The nation’s oil and chemical plants are spewing a lot more pollution than they report to the Environmental Protection Agency — and the EPA knows it. Records, scientific studies and interviews suggest pollution from petrochemical plants is at least 10 times greater than what is reported to the government and the public.” How come? The United States is using outdated measuring devices, not the lasers, solar technology and remote sensors used by European countries and Canada. Internal documents from the EPA confirm that, and other reports state that real emissions could be anywhere from 3 to 100 times greater than what is reported, primarily because valve leaks are much greater than what these older methods are detecting. There is every reason to believe that Utah refineries are also vastly underreporting their real emissions.

7. Refinery pollution is uniquely toxic. Crude oils contain over a thousand different hydrocarbons and, depending on the source of the oil, vary greatly in the relative amounts of individual hydrocarbons and trace metal and sulfur content. Refinery emissions are highly contaminated by HAPs (Hazardous Air Pollutants) which are considered highly toxic in very small quantities. HAPs are primarily benzene-like compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins and heavy metals.

Benzene is officially considered a carcinogen by the Dept. of Health and Human Services, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the National Toxicology Program, and the EPA. People who live near oil refineries have the double the risk for leukemia compared the rest of the population. Studies with pregnant animals show that breathing benzene has harmful effects on the developing fetus. These effects include low birth weight, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage.

Long-term exposure to benzene primarily harms the bone marrow, the soft, inner parts of bones where new blood cells are made. This may result in:

• Anemia (a low red blood cell count), which can cause a person to feel weak and tired.

• A low white blood cell count, which can lower the body’s ability to fight infections and may even be life-threatening.

• A low blood platelet count, which can lead to excessive bleeding.

Exposure to benzene near the US permissible limit is associated with sperm having the wrong number of chromosomes. Exposure to petrochemicals, specifically benzene, gasoline, and hydrogen sulphide is significantly associated with increased frequency of spontaneous abortion.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), one of the most serious components of refinery emissions, act as endocrine disrupting hormones in extremely small quantities. They can pass through the placenta and result in concentrations as high in a newborn baby as the baby’s own sex hormones. Endocrine hormones are likely the most powerful biologic agents known. Chemicals that mimick those hormones are known as “endocrine disruptors.” 1/1000 of previously recommended safe dosages of hormone mimickers are now known to create genetic malfunctions and precancerous conditions in in vitro cells.

The Endocrine Society, the official organization of the specialists, endocrinologists, made this official statement on the danger of endocrine disrupting chemicals in 2009. “Even infinitesimally low levels of exposure indeed, any level of exposure at all, may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities, particularly if exposure occurs during a critical developmental window. Surprisingly, low doses may even exert more potent effects than higher doses.” The main finding of a new report, three years in the making, published March 14, 2012 by a team of 12 scientists who study hormone-altering chemicals was: small doses can have big health effects, there are no safe doses for endocrine disruptors.

A recent article in the world’s most well respected medical journal, The New England Journal of Medicine, made this statement. “Mutagenic effects theoretically can result from a single molecular DNA alteration. Regulatory prudence has led to the use of “one-hit models” for mutagenic end points, particularly cancer, in which every molecule of a carcinogen is presumed to pose a risk. The carcinogens of concern in crude oil are benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).”

The article also said, “Pregnant women should particularly avoid dermal contact with oil and should avoid areas with visible oil contamination or odors.”

The proposed Tesoro expansion will increase their annual HAPs emissions by 9,000 lbs/ year. As a group HAPs are the deadliest, most toxic substances known and this may represent the worst of the public health consequences to refinery expansion.

8. Industrial emissions are even more toxic than traffic pollution.

see references below.

9. Children living near petrochemical industries have higher levels of PAHs in their blood than adults, contributing to more DNA damage. see references below.

10. Refinery expansions will increase local diesel emissions from hundreds of new trucks coming in and out of the refineries carrying new crude oil. Two new studies, considered the best ever done on the toxicity of diesel emissions, confirmed that long term exposure to even low levels of diesel exhaust raises the risk of dying from lung cancer: for local residents about 50% and for refinery workers about 300%.

1. Brody, J.G., R. Morello-Frosch, A. Zota, P. Brown, C. Perez and R. Rudel. 2009. Linking Exposure Assessment Science with Policy Objectives for Environmental Justice and Breast Cancer Advocacy: The Northern California Household Exposure Study. American Journal of Public Health, 99: S600-S609,

2. Barregard L, E Holmberg and G Sallsten. 2009. Leukaemia incidence in people living close to an oil refinery. Environmental Research 109:985-990.

3. Xing C, Marchetti F, Li G, et al. Benzene exposure near the US permissible limit is associated with sperm aneuploidy. Environ Health Perspect 2010;118:833-839

4. Xu, Xiping, Sung-Il Cho, et al.. “Association of petrochemical exposure with spontaneous abortion.” Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 55: 31-36. 1998.

5. Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D., Howard J. Osofsky, M.D., Ph.D., and Maureen Y. Lichtveld, M.D., M.P.H. The Gulf Oil Spill. N Engl J Med 2011; 364:1334-1348April 7, 2011

6. Silverman DT, Samanic CM, Lubin JH, et al. The diesel exhaust in miners study: a nested case-control study of lung cancer and diesel exhaust. J Natl Cancer Inst. March 2, 2012. doi:10.1093/jnci/djs034.

7. Attfield MD, Schlieff PL, Lubin JH, et al. The diesel exhaust in miners study: a cohort mortality study with emphasis on lung cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. March 2, 2012. doi:10.1093/jnci/djs035.

These refinery expansion plans should be suspended for the following reasons:

1. A health study of what the refinery emissions are doing to the health of residents of South Davis County has never been done and should be done before expansion is allowed.

2. The three refineries that currently use hydrofluoric acid should be required to change to safer alternatives.

3. The refineries should be inspected regularly, not once every few years.

4. The refineries should be required to use remote sensing technology to detect the full extent of their fugitive emissions.

5. The state should adopt a policy that no net increase in refinery related pollution will be allowed.

Contact the EPA and Gov. Herbert’s office with your phone calls and e-mails about why these expansion plans should not be allowed to proceed as planned. The deadline

Care about refinery pollution? Contact

Health Risks: Tar sands, Refineries, Pipelines

The purpose of this research project is to answer the basic question: Do those who live close to refineries and/or tar sand extractions sites and/or who work in occupations related to refineries and tar sands have a greater risk of illness, e.g., cancer, as a result?

Tentative Research Agenda

1) Literature Review:

Research studies of links, if any, between; 1) occupation, 2) geographical location and types of illnesses, particularly cancers. Are there studies of particular types of cancers by occupation/industry and location/residence.

2) Data

I am filing Freedom of Information requests with the City of Burnaby on the number of complaints made by Burnaby residents over time on oil spills, evacuation orders, noise complaints, health risks, follow-up to resident’s complaints, programs, and minutes of meetings regarding by-laws to regulate the oil pipeline and refinery industry.

We need to know which government agencies, groups, NGOs etc collect information on cancer rates by residence and/or location of subject (since privacy is going to be an issue, perhaps types of cancers by treatment center or data that can help identify location, and industry or occupation of subject.

A few potential sources come to mind:

Cancer Society
Health Canada
Statistics Canada
Local Health Authorities

Pipeline Whistleblower: Cracks in The System

Insider ties poor weld inspections to rising rate of ruptures. Part two of a Tyee investigation. Part 2 of a series.

[Editor’s note: Keying off his new book The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude, Andrew Nikiforuk will give a free talk on the evening of Oct. 3 in Vancouver moderated by Tyee editor David Beers. Tickets are going fast. Details here.]

Evan Vokes, a 46-year-old Calgary pipeline engineer, is a man with a mission, and a conscience.

While building natural gas pipelines in Canada, Mexico and the United States for TransCanada Corporation, he started raising concerns about industry practices.

Vokes had an important inside job: he was the guy that ensured the pipelines were constructed safely.

His specific duties included metallurgy and welding. He also specialized in an important accountability process known as non-destructive examination. And he didn’t like what he was seeing.

At the invitation of Russ Girling, TransCanada’s CEO, Vokes provided documents to senior executives of the company (it is Keystone XL’s controversial sponsor) that allegedly documented systemic failure to follow code and regulations in 2011.

Shortly afterwards, the engineer lodged a complaint with regulators in Canada and the U.S. Last May TransCanada fired the engineer without cause.

Drawing on examples from the records of Enbridge and Kinder Morgan (the CBC is investigating TransCanada’s record) Vokes is going public with his concerns about an industry facing unprecedented growth and what even the National Energy Board (NEB) describes as “an increased trend in the number and the severity” of pipeline incidents.

Vokes has stellar company. In particular, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has accused Enbridge, a Canadian company jointly regulated by the NEB and the U.S. Pipeline Hazardous Materials Standard Administration (PHMSA), of nurturing a “culture of deviance” on safety and integrity issues after a dramatic Michigan pipeline rupture in 2010. That debacle caused the largest and most expensive onshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Moreover, a lengthy 2008 audit of the company by the National Energy Board documented similar flaws two years before the event.

It found that company was not upholding the rules and regulations on pipeline integrity and safety in Canada either.

“Enbridge’s integrity management program for pipelines and facilities do not meet some of the provisions required by” Onshore Pipeline Regulations and CAS-Z662 Oil and Gas Pipeline Systems, said the extensive audit which the NEB did not make public at the time.

In addition to “multiple findings of non-compliance and non-conformance” with regulations, the NEB also documented that Enbridge didn’t have a process for “defining and evaluating the level of qualification and competence of contractors and consultants.”

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How petro-dependency corrodes our humanity. And what it will take to pull free.

Where: Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Woodwards SFU.

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The company also didn’t know how valid and effective its assessments of corrosion and cracking were in its pipeline safety program.

As a result the NTSB concluded that Enbridge’s Michigan spill was partly the result of weak regulations, weak enforcement and a corporate disregard for learning from past mistakes.

In attempt to catch-up with events, the National Energy Board released a discussion paper on pipeline safety that pointedly echoes the very issues raised by Vokes.

The paper says that “accident prevention requires active leadership by management on safety issues” and adds that “there must be effective implementation of the right controls to manage, mitigate or eliminate hazards and risk.”

‘Someone is going to die’

It’s exactly these kind of problems and accountability failures that Vokes is now trying to highlight as Canada prepares to double its pipeline capacity with controversial bitumen and diluent highways across the continent.

“Someone is going die and they just don’t know it yet,” explains Vokes, a large, intense and careful man who spoke to both the Tyee and the CBC over the last several weeks.

He’s also filed his concerns and allegations with the National Energy Board, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) and U.S. Pipeline Hazardous Materials Standard Administration (PHMSA). Documents have also been sent to the office of the prime minister.

The NEB told the Tyee that the board is taking the allegations and complaints made by Vokes seriously and is investigating them. In contrast, AGEGA, a self-regulating professional body, did not answer two separate queries from the Tyee.

“My motivation is to prevent unnecessary death and environmental damage,” adds the engineer who has also been a welder and millwright.

“The controls for the industry are there but they are not being implemented or enforced. We have the technology to do things right, but we don’t have the willpower.”

Adds Vokes: “The pipeline industry must take accountability for the true safe construction of pipelines rather than a risk based approach based on faulty data sets on threats to integrity.”

Risk-filled enterprise

Pipeline builders depend on high quality steel, careful engineering, expert welding and competent safety programs that are all subject to a variety of strains and stresses including commercial pressures to get pipe in the ground as fast as possible.

Dense professional jargon, detailed engineering codes and intricate metal science often make pipeline construction and integrity “a difficult subject to understand,” adds Vokes.

“The public has little protection from engineering decisions on pipelines, whether or not they are made by professional engineers,” says the engineer.

The most critical issue is not what companies do after a pipeline has been built, explains Vokes, but the quality of materials, welding and inspection performed during the construction.

In fact, the near doubling of pipeline incidents on Canadian pipelines (from an average of 95 to 161 in 2011) in some ways mirrors British Columbia’s leaky condo scandals.

Several codes now govern the construction of pipelines carrying hydrocarbons in North America, including the American Society for Mechanical Engineering B31.4 and B31.8 and the Canadian Standard’s Association Z662 also known as Oil and Gas Pipeline Systems.

These codes are good says Vokes, but “do not contain a blanket statement for permitting a violation when a company is in a hurry. Those violations happen everyday in this town. But there is no ‘get er done’ clause.”

Case examples: Cracks in the system

In 2008, Enbridge built a 504-kilometre long oil pipeline from Cromer, Manitoba to Clearbrook, Minnesota called Southern Lights.

Shortly afterwards, the National Energy Board, which oversees the safety of interprovincial pipelines, heard about numerous welding quality problems along the pipeline.

“Given the potential systemic nature of defects associated with pipe manufacture and pipe field joining” an NEB letter asked Enbridge for more information about the cracks popping up in its girth welds, a growing epidemic throughout the industry.

A girth weld joins the individual sections of the pipe. If it is not done properly it can break or crack either during construction or later, resulting in leaks and ruptures. PHMSA flagged the problem with a major advisory in 2010.

Enbridge replied to NEB’s request for more information with an unsigned report on girth weld cracks. The four-page document noted that there were 21 cracks and two hydrostatic testing failures in the Southern Lights pipeline on the Canadian side of the project as well as cracks in the U.S. portion. (Hydrostatic testing fills a pipeline with water under high pressure and is a rudimentary way of determining if a pipeline will rupture in service.)

Enbridge’s anonymous 2009 report (like any professional group such as doctors and lawyers, engineers must authenticate and validate documents by signing them) explained that the cracking problems “occurred in high wind chill conditions brought about by ambient temperatures combined with strong Prairie winds.” It added the pipeline had been built according to code and duly repaired “with best welding practices.”

But Vokes says that’s probably not the whole story as pipelining is an outdoor endeavour. A properly supervised welding operation takes the weather conditions into account and modifies welding procedures accordingly. “If you have a high repair rate on a pipeline then you are not following proper welding procedure,” he explains. “Pipeline welding is a manufacturing process on the move.”

Implementation is everything in this business, adds Vokes. “Quality plans count. If you don’t make your welders follow the specified plan, you have a fuck-up.”

Industry experts as well as a 2002 paper on the integrity of pipelines make exactly the same point: “Cracking in pipelines is not usually a defect assessment problem; it is usually an indication that operation, product or environment is a major problem.”

In fact a natural gas pipeline (Rocky Express) built by Houston-based Kinder Morgan across the Great Plains in 2007 and 2008 experienced endless repair work due to shoddy welding practices and commercial pressures to get the pipe in the ground.

In 2012, PHMSA fined Kinder Morgan, which wants to expand its TransMountain pipeline across the Canadian Rockies, nearly half a million dollars for 13 specific violations of pipeline construction codes and regulations. (The NEB currently has no system for fining companies that violate regulations but has proposed one.)

The list of Kinder Morgan’s transgressions is long.

According to PHMSA, Kinder Morgan did not follow quality welding procedures properly; nor did it perform welding “in accordance with proper procedures.” It also “did not adequately inspect the welding.” In addition, the company failed to prevent damage to pipe while backfilling trenches. Nor did the company remove defects in the pipe properly. It also didn’t use the properly designed pipe along one section.

But poor welding isn’t the only cause of cracked pipe in the industry. External and internal corrosion play major roles as does dented and damaged pipe. The National Energy Board now reports that nearly 30 per cent of all pipeline failures Canada are due to cracking.

Non-destructive examination

During the construction of a pipeline, inspectors must confirm and validate a number of procedures to ensure the integrity of the welds on an ongoing basis.

Manual welds with a cellulosic rod are common for pipes going up and down steep slopes. But a bad weld, say, at the top (12 o’clock position at the start of the weld) or at the bottom (six o’clock position) on a high strength steel pipe made by a cellulosic rod, can cause what the industry refers to as delayed cracking, cold cracking or hydrogen cracks.

Hydrogen, the first element on the periodic table, can migrate in solid steel to an area of stress at warm temperatures. When the steel cools, the hydrogen can get stuck and cause delayed cracking. It has long been a major issue in pipeline and building construction around the world.

To check for such cracks the industry uses a variety of different tools after the weld is completed. (In engineer jargon, “non-destructive examination” (NDE) checks the quality of pipeline welds and materials without damaging them.)

Or as Vokes puts it: “Welding determines the speed of construction and NDE holds it hostage.”

The primary tools include radiography (it looks for defects in pipe density with gamma rays); manual ultra sonic, which looks for defects by sending a signal into the pipe with a fixed angle probe; or automatic ultra sonic (AUT). It uses sophisticated probes that look at the pipe from many angles.

Of the three tools AUT is the most effective for scanning the whole pipe and identifying the nature of defects and validating the integrity of the weld. “With AUT you can inspect any pipe wall, a quarter inch or thicker. It’s the best.”

How oil companies plan to kill you (yes, you)

By Nadine Moedt (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: September 12, 2012

How will two oil companies (Kinder Morgan and Enbridge) try to kill thee? Let me count the ways. Having spoken to two representatives from PIPE UP, Sheila Muxlow and Michael Hale, I am thoroughly scared shitless and wish to list the reasons why continuing to allow tar sands oil through BC is a terrible and downright irresponsible idea.

First off, the product that these companies are shifting to—tar sands diluted bitumen rather than conventional oil—puts everyone at risk. Because tar sands bitumen is in its natural state is solid, it must be diluted by a variety of toxic chemicals to be moved through the pipeline. In order to be transported it must be submitted to pressure and heat, which increases the risk of spillage. The chemicals used include benzene, a chemical that has been linked to blood cancer. If there is a spill, these chemicals would evaporate into the air for us to breathe in.

To make things worse, tar sands diluted bitumen is nearly impossible to clean up in the event of a spill. That’s because tar sands bitumen is solid, so once it cools in the event of a spill, naturally it sinks. Sheila Muxlow, a spokesperson for PIPE UP, points to the Kalamazoo Michigan spill in 2010 as an example of what might be in store for us. After two years of attempting to clean up that spill using conventional methods, such as skimming oil off the water, they still have not been able to rid the water of this poisonous substance. No amount of money thrown at this issue will clean up an oil spill if we simply do not have the method to do so.

Many people are not aware that we are already allowing tar sands oil through BC. Considering all the attention given to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, I was shocked to learn that Kinder Morgan’s Trans mountain pipeline runs right through the Fraser Valley and is now carrying tar sands diluted bitumen. What makes things worse is that this is a pipeline built in the early ‘50s for the transport of conventional oil and natural gas; it was not built to accommodate the heat and pressure tar sands diluted bitumen requires. Now, Kinder Morgan is proposing an expansion: another pipeline running parallel to the first, right through our backyard.

And if this doesn’t sound bad enough, both Kinder Morgan and Enbridge are setting up this pipeline solely for export. At the moment we have something like 71 to 80 tankers a year in the Burrard Inlet. If these proposals go through, god forbid, this number would go up to 365 tankers a year. The tankers would not be the relatively small ones we have now, but large crude carriers, ranging up to 400 meters in length. Muxlow mentioned there has been talk about the need to “dredge the inlet” in order to make sure these beasts can make it through the inlet. This dredging would have a horrible ecological impact, stirring up any pollution resting at the bottom from the tankers we already have coming through and disturbing any present marine life.

So what are the benefits? Surely by prostituting our environment for the sake of Ottawa and these big oil companies we get some compensation. Right? Michael Hale has done the research and our gains, he says, are a “pittance.” Here are the facts he has summarized, taken directly from the report on the economic benefits of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). To start, over $10 billion would be spent (Enbridge has estimated a $5.5 billion dollar project and Kinder Morgan, $4.5 billion). There would be “spin off,” i.e., people get work. Yet economic benefits would result for any new project and the fact is that building pipelines is “capital intensive” and results in “relatively less employment” than if that money was spent on other projects. It makes sense. Manufacturing the actual pipes can be done in factories, and the digging/laying down/raping of the environment would not result in full time employment for many workers. The cost of carbon emissions, the cost of potential spills, and other environmental risks is glossed over by Enbridge. CCPA states that “while private gains accrue to the oil and gas industry, huge costs are borne by others.” Others being you, your children and your children’s … But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We probably won’t make it that far if this pipeline goes through.

Here are some other economical facts Hale lists. For local residents: the price of gas would go up, drinking water from the aquifer would be at risk, and local manufacturing would be negatively impacted as the export of raw material contributes to inflation.

We need to explore our options before we allow these oil companies to put all of us at risk. At this point, it is absolutely critical to be thinking about building infrastructure that promotes a more green way of life. We need to focus on alternative energy sources. To build a pipeline that would speed up extraction of the tar sands oil and reinforce our dependency establish on fossil fuels would be completely irresponsible and—let’s be honest—just plain stupid.