Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Exxon Trying To Reclaim Worst Oil Company Title

The lack of coverage that this has received in the media is rather stunning. (and admittedly here as well, been meaning to put something up about this for a week or two now):
An oil spill in Montana's Yellowstone River surged toward North Dakota on Sunday as outraged residents demanded more government oversight of Exxon Mobil's cleanup.

An estimated 750 to 1,000 barrels, or up to 42,000 gallons, spilled through a damaged pipeline in the riverbed, Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said. The break near Billings could be related to the river's high water level, officials said.

More than 120 people were working on the cleanup late Sunday, Jeffers said. But local officials said because of the raging floodwaters, only a handful of crews were laying absorbent pads and booms to trap the oil along short stretches of the river between Billings and Laurel. In some areas, residents said, oil may be flowing underneath the booms and continuing downstream in the murky water.

Jeffers said most of the oil was believed to be within 10 miles of the spill site, and Exxon crews were flying over the area late Sunday to assess how far it had spread since the Friday night spill.

But Montana's governor disputed the 10-mile estimate.

"Nobody can say definitively," Gov. Brian Schweitzer said. "It's too early. We need boats on the water," not just flyovers. Because of the high water, however, boats were potentially unsafe.

There were reports of oil as far as 100 miles away near the town of Hysham, Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy said.

Although the spill is downstream from Yellowstone National Park and the fertile Yellowstone fly-fishing grounds, some officials worried it could harm the tourism industry, which draws 11 million visitors a year to a state with a population of just 980,000.

"We take our rivers very seriously here in Montana," said Schweitzer, a soil scientist who planned to visit the spill site Tuesday. "We will not allow this catastrophe to affect the $400-million trout industry in Montana."

Schweitzer, a Democrat, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had been working with state agencies to investigate the cause of the spill and would test air, water and soil samples. Exxon will be expected to pay for the cleanup so that "everybody along that river is made whole," he said.
But wait, there's more! Yesterday:
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A new oil spill involving hundreds of gallons of crude has been discovered in Montana 350 miles from where cleanup crews are mopping up a larger one on the Yellowstone River.

The amount spilled at the FX Drilling Co. oil field in a remote corner of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation appears to be much less than the estimated 42,000 gallons that emptied into the Yellowstone River earlier this month. But the northwestern Montana spill comes at a time when all pipeline and oil operations in the state are under scrutiny as a result of the larger Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline break.

Andy Pierce, vice president of FX Energy Inc., the Salt Lake-based parent company of FX Drilling, estimated that between 10 to 15 barrels, or 420 to 630 gallons, leaked from a broken line as a result of the earth shifting during flooding in the area.

Indian Country Environmental Associates, the organization heading the cleanup, put the amount between 15 and 20 barrels, or up to 840 gallons.

The broken flow line between two oil wells may have been leaking for 10 to 14 days before a neighboring landowner reported it last Tuesday.
These obviously aren't as large as the Gulf spill, but you'd think the fact that it occurred in such a well known area would have garnered more attention. Also, it seems Exxon learned from BP that lying about literally every aspect of the spill for months is a pretty bad PR strategy.

It should be noted that with the environmental disasters we've had in the last year, Republicans are actively trying to destroy the EPA:
Republicans eager to undo regulatory burdens they say are hindering economic growth have advanced a series of proposals designed to rein in the power of the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies.

They have taken aim at the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, pollution from offshore drilling projects in the Arctic and ash from coal-fired power plants. And Republicans in control of the House just advanced a federal spending bill that would place other limits on the EPA and Interior Department’s power to regulate.

But the July 1 oil spill from an Exxon Mobil pipeline in Montana and a series of other pipeline accidents may be changing that dynamic. House Republicans are feeling new pressure to abandon their strategy, at least when it comes to federal oversight of pipeline safety.
Credit to the Houston Chronicle for running with the "Yellowstone spill puts Republicans in tough spot" headline, which is far more confrontational than the usual "Republicans say Destroying the EPA will Lead to Less Spills, Some Disagree" headline that the beltway media churns out on a daily basis.

They must be feeling some sort of real heat on this issue, because they have the urge to at least pretend like they're caring:
At the same time, the Yellowstone River spill also is putting Republicans in a politically tricky position advancing a top priority: legislation that would force the Obama administration to soon decide whether it will approve the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil sands from Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — and one of the EPA’s leading congressional antagonists — has pledged to swiftly move new safety legislation this year. Under Upton’s watch, the panel is developing legislation that would boost civil penalties for pipeline spills and force federal regulators to reassess whether existing standards are good enough.

That measure dovetails with a bill advanced by a Senate committee in May that would boost existing civil fines for violating pipeline regulations and would create new penalties for violations that cause medical injuries or damage to the environment. The Senate bill also would authorize more federal safety inspectors.

Although pipelines are chiefly regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, the EPA takes a lead role in assessing public health and environmental damages from any spill.
This all sounds positive, but there have been two pipeline spills in the last month (where no one is really sure of the cause), and his priority seems to be pushing this bill through so that his committee can go back to their usual business, approving another pipeline expansion.

And while I appreciate the idea of more inspectors and higher penalties... the House GOP is attempting to DEFUND THE EPA with their next budget.

You know when a few more inspectors and higher fines won't do the trick? When you're simultaneously trying to defund the division that would employ those inspectors and hand out those fines. It's a tried and true Republican tactic seen with the EPA and Department of Labor during the Bush years, and it's unfortunately fairly successful. People generally think the EPA and OSHA are good things and don't want them destroyed, so rather than actually trying to take them away, you just don't fund them, and hire industry shills to run those departments. It's much easier to do, and then this happens:

It's important to understand the link between the policies and their results. If you don't fund OSHA, it has consequences. One group of people in DC (largely) thinks the EPA shouldn't exist. The other group (mostly) disagrees, and thinks it should exist.

This is a pretty big difference, and is a message we should be spreading to as many people as possible.

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