The newest oil disaster is opening up new debate over the transport of US crude. The Houston Ship Channel, the nation’s busiest seaport, is facing a massive clean up after the Kirby Inland Marine oil barge, which was carrying over a hundred thousand gallons of raw crude, slammed into another vessel transporting thousands of pounds of rice. The eight refineries that line the massive 55 mile waterway supply nearly 12 percent of the nation’s oil supply. This is yet another spill to ignite an already contentious debate over the transport of oil.
Along with the nearby wildlife preserve, the clean up is estimated to take months, as oil companies still use what is considered outdated methods for cleaning up such disasters. Environmentalists argue that every time there is a major spill, the water and land mass in the area of the spill may never be the same. Considered much smaller than the 1989 Valdez oil spill in William Sound, Alaska, the added difficulty of this being such a heavily traveled channel may make this clean-up much more difficult than another of similar size, according to Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer while commenting on the transport debate.
This newest oil spill ignites yet another debate over the Keystone XL Pipeline. Proponents of the pipeline argue that such risky forms of oil transport will be all but eliminated with the pipeline, and the environmental risks will be significantly diminished. After several high-profile spills in the United States over the last decade, including major bursts in residential neighborhoods, pipeline opponents say the risk is significantly greater as the pipeline will span a much larger area of risk. Not only will the pipeline encompass a distance of over 2000 miles of land from Houston to Alberta, Canada, but it will also transport the dirtiest of fuels, tar sands oil. Risks will not only include a line spanning six U.S. states, but the fact that it will also cross several waterways including the Missouri, Red, and Yellowstone rivers. A tar sands oil spill in the summer of 2010 spilled over into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, and the Canadian oil company who owns that pipeline has yet to finish the clean up nearly four years later.
TransCanada, the company that owns and operates the pipeline, has had significant issues with shoddy construction and violations of many federal welding regulations, according to TransCanada engineer, Evan Vokes. Vokes has repeatedly expressed concerns over the lack of competency in construction. Taking into consideration that this disastrous spill in the Houston Ship Channel, the entry point for thousands of marine vessels daily, was so massive despite only containing about 100 thousand gallons, the argument that the United States simply cannot survive a Keystone Pipeline failure is one that many are beginning to see as reasonable. The spill in Houston could cost upwards of tens of millions of dollars and take years to fully complete. The potential damage to wildlife is being described as unmeasurable, with strong arguments raging on both sides. With yet another oil spill igniting more transport debate, this fight is far from over. This is just another weapon in the arsenal of Keystone Pipeline opponents.
By Kimberly Beller