Another Oil Pipe Has Burst in the Sands, But No Big Deal

by leafitalone on Novembre 25, 2016 - 8:32pm

On October 7th, 2016, The Calgary Herald released a news article on its website regarding a 3-hectare oil spill in Northern Alberta. The leak occurred about 15km away from a town called Fox Creek, covering a flowing marsh area “which isn’t home to fish”. Glad that’s cleared up. The Alberta Energy Regulator is said to be investigating the extent of the environmental damage, and an emergency cleanup process has been initiated. The article also provides a brief reminder of several incidents that occurred in the summer of this year, where millions of liters of contaminated water found its way into surrounding areas and rivers across Alberta. One company in particular, Apache Canada Ltd. was fined $350,000 by the Government for the two spills that it was responsible for. This doesn’t seem like much of a fine, considering that 4 million liters of contaminated water ended up in the drinking water of the local communities.

            What is particularly disappointing about this article is the lack of concern for the ecosystems and local communities that could be affected by this spill. Suggesting that the spill may not have affected any wildlife in any capacity should be regarded as a cardinal sin; flooding 3 hectares of land with clean water is going to affect the local ecosystems in some capacity, let alone a mix of salt water and oil. As a rule, media coverage focuses heavily on stakeholder controversy and this article appears to follow the trend.

A significant portion of the Herald’s readership likely includes employees of the companies in question and people potentially affected by the spills. This kind of conflict is considered to be value conflict, between the environment and the industry. Concerns of environmental damage are kept to a minimum, while the reputations of the companies responsible are defended by stating that no worker was injured and they are dealing with the issue in whatever capacity they can.  While this article does raise awareness of the issue of frequent spilling, fails to take the long term environmental impacts into consideration. This is made clear with one simple phrase: “clean it up”. We know from the issues with toxic material seeping into the Athabasca river that a full clean-up is nigh on impossible, let alone in terms of cost. This is the kind of issue that is either taken lightly or avoided altogether. For example, no information is given on the current status of the spill that occurred six months ago. The attitude is very much “They’re on the clean-up, case closed”. This could be due to a cognitive conflict. The firms operating in the tar sands believe their processes to cause minimal damage, which we know is not the case at all.

            I believe a more aggressive stance on standards should be taken by the government, as we’ve seen in the nuclear industry. The Watts Bar 2 plant in Tennessee has only just opened after first being commissioned in 1977 due to safety concerns following Chernobyl. While regulation has been avoided since the takeover by more neoliberal ideologies, the government should provide incentives in Alberta for renewable energy research and development, much like California did to improve energy efficiency. Development of renewable energy in Alberta hopefully would reduce the environment/job conflict, as the growth of one industry could act as a substitute for a reduction in activity of another.