Surely, the BP disaster deserves the obsessive coverage it has received (thus far). But at the risk of missing some other important stories, I want to briefly address two somewhat overlooked catastrophes – one that has already taken place, and one that possesses the potential to be horrific, but we still have time to stop.
Many Americans would be surprised to hear there’s another domestic oil spill – in Salt Late City. (via)
Chevron says a hole the size of a quarter caused their pipeline to rupture around 33,000 gallons of oil into the creek.
The manager of Chevron’s refinery in the Salt Lake City area said Monday that the company believes the rupture in the 10-inch pipeline was caused by an electrical arc that traveled through a metal fence post. Mark Sullivan says the arc acted like an electrical torch, causing the hole.
Sullivan couldn’t say how long the pipeline was leaking before Chevron was notified of the problem Saturday morning. But Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker says residents could smell the odor of petroleum overnight Friday.
The spill has coated about 300 birds at area creeks and ponds, and the oil is possibly threatening an endangered fish.
Chairman of the Salt Lake City Council, J.T. Martin, calls the event a horrible tragedy.
“The whole river corridor is contaminated. It is a major catastrophe for this area and for the city.”
State water quality scientists were taking samples to determine oil concentrations. Depending on amounts, the spill could disrupt the food chain for the long term, killing bottom-dwelling invertebrates that feed fish, said Walt Baker, director of the state Division of Water Quality.
…Crews had positioned absorbent booms throughout the contamination path and, as a precautionary measure, on the Jordan River as far north as the Utah Fairpark, said Jeff Niermeyer, the city’s director of public utilities.
“We do not want it to get into the Great Salt Lake,” Freitag said. There, the lack of a current could allow oil to accumulate and affect even larger bird populations at the world-class flyway. However, he said, the oil appear to be stopped in the Jordan River.
River activist Jeff Salt planned to check out the Jordan River on Saturday night.
“What happens with the Jordan River that’s of concern is the water feeds into the duck clubs and to Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area,” he said. “Hopefully, there are preventive measures being installed at the key locations along the Jordan River to contain the oil before we get to the wildlife areas.”
Residents were urged to avoid affected areas of the Jordan River, while Liberty Park and Red Butte Creek were expected to remain closed at least through today.
We’ve already seen how well those booms works in Louisiana. Rachel Maddow reported from the delicate marshlands that many of the booms are “Snarled up in marshes, not protecting the shorelines, blown over by tiny little winds, tiny little waves, bamboo pickets to hold the boom in place that don’t hold it in place…”
The sad truth about these kinds of ecodisasters is that companies like BP and Chevron don’t have a fully effective way to clean up their mess. That’s why regulation is so important, which brings me to this second story about the Marcellus Shale.
A while ago, I wrote about an incredible video posted at the website of Toxic Targeting, an environmental watchdog group that maps toxic sites on a lot-by-lot basis. The video showed a disabled Vietnam veteran lighting his tap water on fire. The water, and the tap, have been located in his Candor, New York home since 1962.
He lives above this thing, the Marcellus Shale, which is a formation few people know about, but which has a huge impact on their water and gas supplies. It’s basically a giant rock formation that extends from New York all the way down to Tennessee. Industry first became interested in the Marcellus Shale when scientists realized there was gas inside the pores of the rock.
I first saw Walter Hang, President of Toxic Targeting, explain in an interview with Democracy Now a new process called “slick water hydrofracking” which was developed to extract the gas. However, the extraction involves tremendous amounts of water, and it’s incredibly polluting. The water that comes out of the ground has toxic chemicals, petroleum compounds, and it’s actually radioactive.
Huge corporations like Chesapeake, Fortuna, Talisman, and Hess benefit from slick water hydrofracking, but the process is potentially polluting the drinking water of 15 million people, including 9 million New Yorkers.
Now, two gas wells are planned near 67 homes in Pennsylvania.
The industry noise began with a “blowout” on June 3 at a Marcellus Shale well outside Penfield in rural Clearfield County. That well, adjacent to the Moshannon State Forest, spewed natural gas and drilling wastewater contaminated with toxic chemicals into the air for 16 hours.
On Monday, drillers hit a pocket of methane in an inactive deep mine, causing an explosion and fire that flared 50-feet high for four days, destroyed a drilling rig and burned all seven workers on the well pad, located in a farm field near Moundsville in West Virginia’s northern panhandle.
Okay, team. Good start. At least no one died, so that’s cause for celebration, and full steam ahead, BP-style!
Anyway, that’s what I say. But for some reason, the townspeople are spooked.
“We’re horrified by the possibilities of that happening here,” Ms. Borowiec said about Marcellus Shale wells planned for a pad 1,500 feet from homes in Upper Burrell. “The more research we do the more horrific it is, and I don’t think a lot of people know what’s going on.”
Now, they want all kinds of “safety standards” and “environmental regulations.” Chucklesnort. Don’t these idiots realize they live in America? We go commando, baby.
But Dr. [Conrad Dan Volz, assistant professor for Environmental & Occupational Health at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health and director of the school's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities,] said the recent accidents should raise a red flag, noting that there have been leaks and fires at Marcellus Shale drilling operations in Pennsylvania as well as blowouts in other gas shale areas around the country. That should preclude locating gas wells on school properties — under consideration by some Pennsylvania districts — and state-owned forests, parks and properties, he said.
“This is a public health issue, and there should be careful deliberations, not only by the state Department of Environmental Protection but also the Department of Health, which is on the hook for public health and would be derelict if it doesn’t act quickly to deal with this,” Dr. Volz said.
Look, someone tell Dr. Feelgood that the prospect of exploding the little fiery corpses of schoolchildren into the stratosphere shouldn’t stand in the way of social progress. That’s no reason to let something dangerous happen, like allowing the formation of unions or strict regulatory processes.
By the way, Pennsylvanians will be footing the bill for their own radioactive demise.
Pennsylvanians are only slowly becoming aware that we are under siege. More than a thousand Marcellus Shale drill sites are in the works, with tens of thousands more poised to descend on Penn’s Woods, its towns and neighborhoods, threatening to poison water tables, suck streams dry, pollute the air with ear-splitting noise and toxic fumes — all without meaningful regulation, without meaningful taxation.
Like coal, which successfully resisted a severance tax, leaving taxpayers and volunteer associations to wrestle with the social and environmental damage wrought by more than a century of exploitation, gas drillers enabled by politicians expect Pennsylvania to remain the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax. These deep-drilled deposits of natural gas will be severed from the commonwealth forever without compensation and with little or no enforceable liability for the devastation wrought on the land, water and air. We cannot allow this to happen!
Without labor protections, community protections, landowner protections and public health protections, we cannot allow this toxic invasion to proceed.
In the words of John Cole:
Because, you know, if we tax [corporations] they’ll move overseas. Wait, what?
It’s not too late to stop the next great national tragedy that is totally preventable through strong regulation and the formation of unions to protect workers’ rights. However, corporations aren’t going to lead the way on this one. Regulation and unions both slow down the rush to profits. Theoretically, a Democratic president is supposed to be an ally to these protective measures. Emphasis on the “theoretically.”
What the administration (and the media) have demonstrated is they’re much more likely to ignore the Marcellus story until an explosion happens, killing workers. Then, everybody will gnash their teeth and wail to the sky, crying “Why? How did this happen?”