The Ignored Town in Pipeline Debate

Today’s New York Times provides food for thought to President Obama as he mulls over approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

It’s a massive 1,700-word achievement of investigative journalism titled, “Amid Pipeline Debate, Two Costly Cleanups Forever Change Towns“.

It documents the struggles of two communities plagued by large oil pipeline spills. They are Marshall, Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas.

A mysteriously overlooked town, Lac-Mégantic, brings far more clarity to the debate than both the others combined.

Marshall and Mayflower

Marshall, Michigan experienced an 840,000 gallon oil pipeline spill into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River on July 25, 2010. It’s the largest pipeline failure in U.S. history.

The leak was 1/5th of a day’s worth of flow from a pipeline that daily handles 4 million gallons of crude. A 40-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River was closed to recreation for two years.

The NYT says there are few visible signs of the spill today. No homes were damaged but many riverfront properties remain vacant with posted “For Sale” signs in front.

On 3/31/2013, in Mayflower Arkansas, 210,000 gallons of oil spilled into a neighborhood and 22 homes had to be evacuated. The video on the evening news showed the smelly black crude running down suburban streets. 17 of the homes were declared safe by the EPA but many residents have stayed away.

April Lane of Mayflower explains the people there are still worried about their safety.

Both spills caused environmental damage, but both caused no injuries and few structures were directly affected. There is little visible damage remaining, but unseen oil has settled to the bottoms of Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River.

The NYT says the companies involved have spent 10s of millions on cleanup efforts and compensation for affected residents.

According to the NYT, Marshall’s spill was “thick oil sands crude”. Mayflower’s spill was “heavy Canadian crude”.

The Fly in the Ointment

Stunningly absent from the New York Times pipeline debate story is the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec Canada.

Lac-Mégantic symbolizes the other side of the pipeline debate.

Without pipelines, how is oil transported overland to market?

The answer: railroads. Because of a shortage of pipelines, railroad transport of crude oil has skyrocketed.

A runaway oil train derailed in downtown Lac-Mégantic on 7/5/2013. It tragically killed 47 people in a massive explosion and fire that destroyed 40 buildings. That accident was four months after Mayflower.

The spill involved 2,116,800 gallons of crude – twice that of Marshall and Mayflower combined! Not all the tanker cars spilled their oil. Lac-Mégantic is barely 13 miles into Canada across the border from Maine.

Ironically, the train was carrying North Dakota Bakken oil to refineries in New Brunswick.

That very oil may well have been sent through the Keystone XL pipeline if had been built. Keystone XL was originally proposed in 2008 and, if built, will carry North Dakota’s Bakken oil.


It’s no contest. The Lac-Mégantic disaster dwarfs Marshall and Mayflower.

47 lives were lost, there was massive property damage and the amount of oil involved was twice that of both Marshall and Mayflower combined. Lac-Mégantic’s downtown looked like it was bombed by U.S. warplanes.

Not even counting Lac-Mégantic, studies show that pipelines are the safest, the most environmentally friendly and they release less CO2 into the atmosphere than any other form of oil transport.

The New York Times doesn’t mention any of that, but stressed that “tar sand” and Canadian oil was involved in both American smaller spills.

Given the oversights and the Canadian finger-pointing, ask yourself this question:
Was the NYT conducting in-depth investigative reporting, or taking a political position?
You decide.


About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!

Posted on Aug 11, 2013, in Business, Climate, economics, Economy, Energy, environment, Government, news, Opinion, Politics, technology. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. It is a shame, AZ, that your readership, as big as it is, doesn’t reach as many people as the NYT. Yours is the analysis that people need to read.

    • I think what ticked me off most about the NYT story was that they expressed their unit of measure as gallons instead of the industry standard of barrels used for crude oil.

      Gallons are used for refined products like gasoline.

      The disguised purpose of that is to make the American spills appear bigger.

      Note I very carefully expressed all my units in gallons (like the NYT) to make apples-to-apples comparisons. Most of my time was making sure the figures in my article are accurate.

      Obviously, talking about a “pipeline debate” without mentioning Lac-Mégantic smacks of pure political posturing.

  2. Thanks for that perspective AZ. The first casualty of war is the truth and we have watched that for the last 25 years. Hyperbole and made up “facts” carry the headlines while reality is as you describe it.

    • The promise of 2008 was that Obama would bring the country together and overcome the divisions that grew larger during the Bush 43 Presidency.

      Unfortunately, Obama has taken division to a whole new level not seen since Vietnam.

      That is to bad. Obama has the oratorical skills and strength of personality to bring the nation together.

      Instead, President Obama has chosen to increase political and ideological differences rather than reduce them.

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