Thursday, September 15, 2016 - Updated: 3:15 PM
A few weeks ago an oil company ran a pipeline through Rolling Hills Cemetery, through the back yards of Eddyville First Baptist Church and Eddyville United Methodist Church, over to Ky. 93 where it ran into Lake Barkley.
The company owning the pipeline filed the necessary paperwork with not only the state, but the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps determined the plan was safe, and a need to drop the price at the pump by a few cents was weighed against concerns over damaged graves and sacred ground.
Hundreds of concerned citizens showed up to protest. Exercising their First Amendment rights meant they were were met with pepper spray and angry dogs. But mostly they were told there was nothing to fear about the pipeline, that across the nation leaks — like the two so far this month, including one that dumped 5,300 gallons of crude oil onto an island in the Gulf of Mexico — are few. We’ll come back to that.
Of course, there isn’t a pipeline running through Rolling Hills, by the churches or into Lake Barkley. That didn’t happen. At least, not here. It is happening (or trying to) in North Dakota, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others are trying to stop construction of a proposed1,170-mile oil pipeline running through Lake Oahe and the Missouri River.
According to PBS, more than 1,000 protesters — many of them Standing Rock Sioux — protested the pipeline near the town of Cannonball. A “confrontation between protesters and construction workers turned violent” last week. Dour security guards and two guard dogs were treated for injuries, along with six protestors.
Much of the issue for protesters are the leaks.
In fairness, most pipeline leaks don’t amount to much when considering the 1.2 million gallons pumped out each day. Leaks generally are a drop in a bucket. Considering there’s 1.2 million buckets, though, and that’s a lot of drops.
There are a few notables when it comes to oil spills, such as the 840,000 gallons that flooded wheat fields in Tioga, North Dakota a few years ago after a lightening strike. Stories of that magnitude aren’t common.
But maybe that’s just because we don’t hear about it.
While the media takes plenty of lumps (many rightly earned) for what it covers, oil leaks aren’t generating many headlines. The lack of light being shown on the industry — along with the continued hamstringing of regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency — results in a culture of acceptance for incompetence and destruction of natural resources.
In 2013, the Associated Press took a look at North Dakota and found nearly 300 oil spills and 750 oil field incidents occurred across the state in a year’s time. None were reported to the public. If each of the spills resulted in 5,000 gallons of oil escaping — a relatively small number per incident — that’s just about enough crude to fill three Olympic-size swimming pools. Triple that if the number includes those from “oil field incidents.”
And that oil has to go somewhere, which could be into a community’s water supply. Agencies that were designed decades ago to stop that from happening are finding the lack of funding and tools provide an antiquated approach to dealing with offenders. As globalization has made it easier for some large companies to operate, it’s taken them well beyond the scope of regulation.
Jeffrey Weise, who stepped down earlier this year from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, spoke out on those concerns three years ago. According to reports, Weise told industry experts, “Do I think I can hurt a major international corporation with a $2 million civil penalty? No.”
On top of that, tax codes could allow the penalty to be classified as a tax deduction in some cases. So top of paying federal inspectors to find problems, litigate them and collect fines, taxpayers are also paying some of the fines for the already subsidized company.
And that’s only for problems found. About 130 federal inspectors oversee 2.6 million miles of pipeline. They’re aided by state inspectors looking for state infractions.
For most folks it’s just another instance of ‘not in my back yard.’ Prices are low at the pump, so who cares if fracking is increasing the number of earthquakes? What’s it matter is pipelines out west are polluting agricultural grounds and water supplies?
The answer is everyone should be concerned, which is why we tried to use the analogy earlier to parallel how it could impact someone here in western Kentucky directly.
There are other concerns for those of us hundreds of miles away from shale oil production. As mentioned with fracking, using water or chemicals to bring oil or gases to the surface creates minor earthquakes. The concern for many is that earthquakes aren’t isolated. Moving one section of underground rock is going to cause it to move differently against another section. Like a giant game of pick-up-sticks, getting through one part can sometimes cause the others to move.
For anyone with a map, it’s not too hard to see how dumping oil in the Missouri River could effect the ecosystem even as far away as western Kentucky.