While most of us are enjoying lower gasoline and natural gas prices these days – a big help to the family budget – it is increasingly difficult to defend the oil and gas industry when it keeps polluting our treasured natural resources.
The most recent incident occurred in Pennsylvania, and it involves the same company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, and which bulldozed ancient Native American burial sites: Sunoco.
A pipeline managed by the company has leaked 55,000 gallons of gasoline into a major waterway, thereby contaminating the drinking water of some 6 million people. The pipeline burst in recent days after heavy rainfall in the area, Natural Blaze reported.
The gasoline streamed into Wallis Run, a tributary of the Loyalsock Creek that eventually drains into the Susquehanna River. The leak was detected very early in the morning after the pressure within the pipeline suddenly dropped in a big way, thereby triggering a pipeline shutdown.
What’s the extent of the damage this time?
“Crews will use skimmers to remove gasoline from the top of affected waterways and will erect containment booms downstream,” Sunoco Logistics said in a statement, as reported by Fortune.
But even after the flow of gasoline within the pipeline was cut off, the same heavy rains that caused the leak continued for several hours, making it impossible to measure the extent of the leak and the damage right away.
The breach led Pennsylvania water authorities to warn customers to hold off from using water from the river for the time being, until environmental authorities can determine the level of contamination, Fortune noted further.
So far, nothing official in terms of data has been released by environmental officials.
Natural Blaze noted that the Susquehanna had previously been declared the third most endangered river in the United States by American Rivers, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to protecting and preserving rivers around the country.
The Susquehanna has also come under threat from development of natural gas, and in particular by the process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” Natural Blaze noted. Some environmental groups claim that fracking has caused major contamination problems in the U.S. as the result of loopholes that exempt the natural gas industry from most U.S. environmental regulations.
The Sunoco spill came as the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and environmental activists protest against the construction of an 1,100-mile pipeline in North Dakota that Sunoco will operate, claiming that it threatens the local water supply and sacred burial sites.
NewsTarget reported that tribal officials said bulldozers were used to “brazenly … destroy our burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts,” even as the tribe sought a court injunction to halt the development.
“The desecration of these ancient places has already caused the Standing Rock Sioux irreparable harm. We’re asking the court to halt this path of destruction,” tribal chairman David Archambault II said in a statement in mid-September.
Violence over pipeline construction
Tribal members and activists made national headlines in September after crashing through fences surrounding the $3.8 billion project and confronting security guards, some of whom unleashed guard dogs on protestors. Some reports at the time claimed that protestors were hurling rocks at security guards and were striking dogs with wooden sticks.
A federal judge had denied the tribe’s request to halt construction of the site, but the Washington Times reported that the Obama administration “took the drastic step” of overruling the judge and temporarily stopping construction.
Environmentalists worried about the pipeline note that Sunoco Logistics spills crude more often than any of its competitors, having experienced more than 200 leaks since 2010, Fortune reported, citing a Reuters analysis of government data.
It’s not clear what the final result will be, however. Powerful oil company interests are driving the construction of the pipeline, which is expected to carry crude to Texas and Louisiana for refining into gasoline and other oil-based fuels and products.