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Coalition seeks stronger federal rules for tar sands oil pipelines

By Bob Downing Published: March 27, 2013

From the National Wildlife Federation:

ANN ARBOR, MICH. (March 27, 2013)– A coalition of landowners, former and current government officials, environmental, renewable energy and sportsmen’s groups filed a petition today with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking the agencies to develop stronger safety standards for tar sands oil pipelines.


“Three years after the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, little has been done to improve pipeline safety,” said Beth Wallace with the Great Lakes Regional Center. “This disaster should have been a wake-up call to industry, regulators and public officials. Instead industry is being allowed to expand pipelines across the region and even under the Great Lakes themselves, which will continue to put communities, wildlife and our economy at risk.”


Read the full petition here (pdf)


The petition effort is spearheaded by the National Wildlife Federation and includes 29 national, state and local organizations as well as 36 landowners from states across the country impacted by existing and proposed tar sands pipelines. It requests a halt to new or expanded tar sands pipelines until adequate rules are in place.


“This petition is an exercise of citizens’ rights to request that government live up to its charge to follow the law, and protect us from the harms and risk of a tar sands pipeline spill,” said Jim Murphy, Senior Council at the National Wildlife Federation. “Until the right standards are put into place, we shouldn’t be exposing more communities and resources to tar sands risks. We expect the government to answer our request and live up to its charge to properly address the unique risks of tar sands transportation.”


Current pipeline regulations were issued long before tar sands oil production ramped up and do not cover the unique aspects of tar sands. Tar sands oil poses more acute risks than conventional fuels shipped through pipelines because the oil is a volatile mix of raw bitumen – an asphalt-like substance – diluted with gas condensates. Diluted bitumen is a toxic, viscous, corrosive substance with the consistency of gritty peanut butter that must be moved at much higher pressures and temperatures than conventional oil. Strong evidence indicates tar sands oil threatens pipeline integrity.


"Even after what happened in Marshall, pipeline companies have continued to run roughshod over the state of Michigan while regulatory agencies and elected officials have stood by idly and allowed it to happen," said Jeff Inkso, writer of the Line 6B citizen blog and landowner impacted by the Enbridge expansion project.


Between 2007 and 2010, pipelines in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan — the main states with a history of tar sands oil pipelines — spilled almost three times more crude oil per mile of pipeline when compared to the U.S. national average. In a scathing report on the Kalamazoo River spill near Marshall, MI, the National Transportation Safety Board pointed blame at current regulations, calling them “weak” and “inadequate.”


“Minnesota has experienced 11 oil pipeline leaks since 2002 according to PHMSA,“ said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation, “We need to do a much better job of protecting our human populations and our wildlife populations that live next to these big pipelines.“


The petition requests new standards tightening several aspects of oil transport and pipeline safety:


  • Stronger safety requirements than those for conventional crude oil;
  • Industry disclosure of products carried through pipelines and their conveyance schedules;
  • Stronger industry spill response plans;
  • Shut-down requirements upon the first indication of a leak or other pipeline failure;
  • Repair of pipelines as soon as defects are discovered;
  • Transparent pipeline inspection reporting; and
  • Pipeline inspection and monitoring by independent entities unaffiliated with pipeline or energy companies;
  • A moratorium on building new or expanded tar sands pipelines until new regulations are final.


Supporters of the petition will be seeking cosigners over the next few months. Under the U.S. Constitution and the federal Administrative Procedure Act, citizens can file a formal petition requesting that a federal agency take specific actions required by law or change existing regulations. This petition requests a change in existing regulations. Federal agencies are required to respond.


National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization, inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.

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