The clean up cost of oil spills has come into question as more crude oil is being transported across the US and Canada. With recent train derailments causing oil spills and explosions, the damage that can be caused by oil transport is becoming more apparent.
Monday February 16th a train carrying 3 millions gallons of Bakken crude oil derailed in West Virginia. The train consisted of 109 tanker cars, 26 of which had been derailed. Of the 26 derailed cars, all of which were built to new higher standards following the tragic Lac Megantic derailment, 19 were involved in a fire that was still ablaze on Wednesday, two days after the initial crash. Crude oil was also spilled into the Kanawha River. Several 100 people were left without drinking water and with winter weather impacting the area a timely response for clean up was not an option.
The risk of an oil spill on the St. Lawrence River is an emerging threat as companies seek ways to transport the hug buildup of Bakken and tar sands oil. One oil tanker can carry the equivalent product of 225 rail cars or 870 trucks. If a ship carrying oil on the River was involved in an incident, a spill might not be the worse that could happen. In any case the end results would be devastating and the damage unimaginable.
The Council of Canadians and Équiterre have issued a new report that make it clear that an oil spill in Lac Saint-Pierre on the St. Lawrence River, where tar sands oil has already been shipped, would cost billions to clean up – far more than the liability limit in Canada.
The environmental impact would be devastating to this UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve recognized as a wetland of international importance. Lac Saint-Pierre is a drinking water source and home to 27 species of rare plants, 79 species of fish, and 288 species of waterfowl. Although down river from Montreal, it stands as a chilling illustration of what could happen on some of the most difficult to navigate sections of the St. Lawrence between Kingston – Cape Vincent and the Seaway locks at Massena.
“Lac Saint-Pierre is a treasure and a wonder in the area. One oil spill could be the death of it all for future generations,” says Steven Guilbeault of Équiterre. “Given the high environmental price of a spill, diluted bitumen shipments should not be permitted on the St. Lawrence River.”
Shipments of diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands are expected to increase as oil giant Suncor and pipeline company TransCanada ramp up exports from ports on the St. Lawrence River. Bitumen from the tar sands is extremely difficult to contain and clean up when spilled on water as it tends to sink to the bottom.
The study also reports that in the event of an oil spill, emergency response would be limited by ice conditions and inadequate capacity of the small private company responsible for oil spill cleanup on the St. Lawrence. Under normal conditions, a spill could travel the length of Lac Saint-Pierre in eight hours – far quicker than a response can be mounted.
“We should be reducing the amount of oil shipped on the St. Lawrence, not increasing it,” says Mark Calzavara of the Council of Canadians. “Doubling the number of supertankers and doubling their size means that a disastrous oil spill is just a matter of time.”
The report recommends reducing the allowable ship size and number of exports, increasing emergency response capacity, removing the liability limit, and making the exporting company jointly responsible for damages.
The report is available at: http://www.canadians.org/LacStPierre