Energy Industry Pollution Update

Every so often, I post about oil spills. Here are few:

This post is no different, except that I have posted three spill updates in three consecutive months. And this one is chock full of contamination.

First, you have surely heard about the oil spill in West Virginia in which contaminated drinking water supplies. On Jan. 9:

A tank holding crude MCHM, a chemical used to prepare coal for combustion, failed, dumping about 10,000 gallons of the toxic chemical into the Elk River just a few miles upstream of a major drinking water intake; a federal emergency was issued and 300,000 people were told not to use their tap water for drinking, bathing or cooking,” according to EHS Today.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, Time reports that officials have no idea how dangerous the chemical is to human health. (For more information on water and chemical spills, check out this NatGeo article “Water in America: Is It Safe to Drink?“)

A different statement from Charleston released on Feb. 11 explained “More than 100,000 gallons of coal slurry poured into an eastern Kanawha County stream Tuesday in what officials were calling a “significant spill” from a Patriot Coal processing facility,” according to the West Virginia Gazette. This immobilized the creek, as it was filled with black sludge. This was the second pollution disaster in West Virginia in 2014.

Coal ash spill in Dan River, NC (2014)

Another coal ash spill in North Carolina polluted the Dan River on Feb. 2, affecting North Carolina and Virginia. A few weeks later, a second pipe burst and was contained shortly after in the same area, according to the LA Times. As a result, levels of metals and contaminants in the water exceed state standards. Federal investigators have also opened a criminal case against Duke Energy, and environmental groups are taking their side, claiming “for years the agency has taken no action to stop the seepage of coal ash from 32 basins at 14 Duke Energy coal-fired plants in North Carolina.”

Machinery in Alberta oil-sands field (2014)

Meanwhile, in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada), research confirms that Alberta’s oil-sands mining operation tailing ponds (those which hold mine waste) are cracked and seepage is heading into the Athabasca River. According to the CBC, environmental research groups have thus far underestimated how much was leaking, but they have known that the tailing ponds are likely to release some chemicals.

So, toxic chemicals, coal ash and mine tailings have been causing a bit of trouble in North America, with in the Eastern United States taking the brunt of it so far in 2014. Many of these issues are due to aging ponds/pipes infrastructure, which are built to keep in the contaminants. However, as I mentioned, they are aging, so they are less likely to keep in the coal ash and mine tailings. But without the pond in the first place, where would they put the waste?

The last story is a bit of a twist. The Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson, is banning new fracking initiatives near his house in Texas because fracking degrades property value. Think Progess/Climate Progress reports that he is blocking production of a 160-foot water tower which will supply water to a fracking initiative nearby. Well, who would have thought that? How ironic. Well, if the CEO of the biggest natural gas provider in the United States doesn’t want fracking in his backyard, why should we?

However, there has been one victory in the fight against spills: a Nebraska court has banned the Keystone XL Pipeline from running through their state. Look for a separate blog post on Thursday describing those issues!

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