Rusty Oil Pipeline

Louisiana Oil Spill Culprit No Stranger To Problems On Pipeline

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One of the unfortunate legacies of the BP oil spill is that big oil spills just don’t seem that big anymore. When viewed within the context of BP, just about every spill seems small. That’s unfortunate.

Four years after residents of south Louisiana watched BP’s oil wash up along the coast, their neighbors to the north now face similar problems. Last week, an estimated 4,000 barrels (168,000 gallons) of crude oil spilled from the Mid-Valley Pipeline into a 4-mile stretch of the Tete Bayou in rural Caddo Parish. The 65-year-old pipeline, owned by Sunoco Logistics, carries up to 280,000 barrels of crude oil per day, approximately 1,000 miles from Longview, Texas to Samaria, Michigan.

Oil Spill Bayou

At least 250 cleanup workers, donning fire retardant clothing, hard hats, safety goggles, and respirators, were dispatched to northwest Louisiana to begin clean up efforts. Sunoco officials remain adamant that none of the oil migrated into Caddo Lake, a major source of drinking water. But the environmental impact of the spill on this rural area is undeniable. As of October 20th, Sunoco acknowledged that 139 dead animals had been recovered by clean up teams working in the area. “I would call it a significant size spill,” said Bill Rhotenberry of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Residents around the spill report the pungent odor of crude oil fills the air. Both Sunoco and the EPA are monitoring the air quality. Crude oil is made up of many chemicals, including benzene. Exposure to benzene can increase the risk of cancer, and is known to cause bone marrow failure. Benzene, which targets the liver, kidney, lungs, heart, and brain, has also been linked to aplastic anemia, leukemia, DNA strand breaks, chromosomal damage, and birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

Oil Spill Workers

Jeffrey Shields, Sunoco’s communications manager, acknowledged that it could take months to clean up the mess. Shields attempted to ease public concerns by reinforcing that Sunoco “understands its obligations well and understands it’s liable for the cost.” “We want everyone to be sure that we’re going to be here until this cleanup is done,” said Shields.

While the cause of the failure in the pipeline is still under investigation, Sunoco is no stranger to oil spills. Sunoco’s Mid-Valley Pipeline has been the source of 40 oil spill incidents since 2006. Property damage and clean up costs associated with these spills and leaks reportedly total nearly $20 million.

In 2000, 63,000 gallons of oil spilled into Campit Lake in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, due to corrosion on Sunoco’s pipeline.

Oil Pipeline Corrosion

In 2005, about 260,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Kentucky River due to a rupture caused by girth weld failure in a pipe originally laid in 1950.

In 2008, construction crews struck the pipeline in Burlington, Kentucky, causing 115,000 gallons to spill, 80 homes to be evacuated, and oil contamination in the sewer system and a creek.

As recently as March 2014, approximately 20,000 gallons of crude oil leaked into a nature reserve near Cincinnati through a bottom-side dent that contained a five-inch through-wall crack in Sunoco’s pipeline. The spill was only discovered when public complaints came in about the odor. Remediation efforts in Cincinnati are still underway 7 months later.

Sunoco faces potential liability under both Louisiana and federal law for its recent failures to maintain its pipeline in Caddo Parish. In addition to civil liability claims made by individual landowners, businesses, and residents impacted by the spill, Sunoco faces governmental fines.

Following the 2000 spill in Claiborne Parish, Sunoco agreed to pay fines totaling $300,000. The fines were in addition to $2.2 million spent to remediate the contaminated environment.

After the 2005 spill in Kentucky, Sunoco paid fines totaling $2.57 million to the federal government and the state of Kentucky.   Those fines were in addition to $9.5 million spent to clean up the mess.

Louisiana is blessed with oil. Our state has an estimated land based reserve of 417 million barrels. That makes us the 10th most oil rich state in the U.S.  And that doesn’t even take into consideration the oil reserves off our coast in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2011 alone, the outer continental shelf offshore of Louisiana produced 422 million barrels.

Oil Rig

In terms of refining capacity, Louisiana trails only Texas. Louisiana is the home of 19 oil refineries. Those refineries have the capacity to process 3.27 million barrels of oil – per day.

Louisiana knows oil. Unfortunately, we know oil spills too. Over the years, we’ve learned that sometimes the oil companies that we host make big promises after they mess up and spill their product.

Here’s to hoping that Sunoco lives up to the promises that it is making to the people of northwest Louisiana . . .