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

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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.