As if the oil industry in Canada wasn’t under enough stress with the world price at $48 a barrel and falling, the news from northern Alberta gets worse, not better. A few years ago it was dozens of ducks who died when they landed in tailings ponds operated by Syncrude. Then it was the world’s favourite rockstar environmentalist, Neil Young, comparing the area near Fort McMurray to the aftermath of Hiroshima.
The industry has been fighting back with a slick ad campaign, declaring that “today’s oilsands are a model of responsible environmental management”. You would get an argument if you said that to the folks who live anywhere near the Nexen pipeline that ruptured, spilling more than 31,000 barrels of bitumen.
The science of pipelines is supposed to have come a long way in recent years. When ruptures happen, as they inevitably will, there are automatic systems that are programmed to immediately shut things down. The Nexen line is one of the newest, but this rupture went undetected for two weeks, because the automatic monitors didn’t work.
It will take years before we know the full extent of damage to drinking water and the environment. There will be a public inquiry, and dozens if not hundreds of lawyers will make a good living out of it for quite a while. Nexen will be ordered to pay many millions in compensation. They will appeal, and lawyers will make even more money.
It may never really end in our lifetime. Remember that huge BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico more than 5 years ago? 11 people died in that one, and oil is still washing up on the beaches of Louisiana. BP has spent more than $26 Billion on cleanup, fines and compensation. Two years ago, when oil was priced at well over $100 a barrel, that $26 billion was only one third of the company’s total revenue.
Sure would be nice to find a better way, wouldn’t it?
I’m Roger Currie