Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Director International Program, Washington, D.C.
Over the weekend celebrating U.S. independence, a pipeline in the wild Yellowstone River broke, spilling 42,000 gallons of oil into fast-moving waters. This is just the latest in a series of oil spills from pipelines in the United States and yet another sign that independence from oil should be our goal at this point.
The Yellowstone River is one of the last wild and undammed rivers in the United States, flowing through the famed Yellowstone National Park and through Montana. Fortunately, the Park is unaffected by this spill. But the tragedy of this spill is being felt by the people, birds, fish and turtles who live in its path.
The news is full of reports from residents about their fields being drenched by oil and the immediate ill effects the toxic oil is having on their health. We are still trying to understand what the extent will be of the damage to fish spawning grounds in the tributaries to the river, as well as to important bird habitat along the river’s banks. The river was already flooding, filled with spring waters from the mountains. This has meant that the oil is being carried over fields, into tributaries and far downstream.
Initial reports say that the fast pace of the river may even be responsible for the pipeline break. It seems that ExxonMobil knew that the flood might damage the pipeline and even turned it off for one day back in May.
Oil pipelines should be built and maintained to withstand flooding rivers. The Yellowstone River spill comes almost one year after an even larger spill of tar sands oil by an Enbridge pipeline into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Officials are still cleaning up that river. This paints a dark picture for how long cleanup of the Yellowstone might take.
This latest spill in the Yellowstone River is causing a discussion in the United States over whether our oil and natural gas pipelines are safe enough to grow even stronger. And rightly so. Our pipelines are not safe enough and the government has been reacting only once a spill happens instead of preventing spills in the first place. We need to protect our communities, rivers, and wildlife against oil spills and we need strong government regulation of the oil industry to do so. The Yellowstone spill is also raising a discussion about how safe our continued dependence on oil is. NRDC has shown that we can move away from our dependence on oil to safer, cleaner forms of getting around, such as increased public transit and electric cars using renewable energy, as well as reducing our use of oil through smart growth and fuel efficiency standards. Hopefully, we can learn from this latest oil tragedy and move away from oil to cleaner energy solutions.
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