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For Immediate Release, June 25, 2013

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

New Study of Tar Sands Pipeline Spills Fails to Evaluate Cleanup Questions

PORTLAND, Ore.— A National Academy of Sciences report released today on tar sands pipelines fails to evaluate the difficulty of cleaning tar sands spills, instead focusing only on whether tar sands crude is more likely to cause spills than other heavy crude oil. The study did not consider the safety record of currently operating tar sands pipelines or investigate the difficulty of cleaning up inevitable spills. 

“The National Academy of Sciences study sidestepped the most important question about tar sands pipeline spills: How do we clean them up?” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The truth is, we can’t. We’ve seen it in the Kalamazoo River and in Arkansas: Tar sands spills have disastrous consequences and can’t be fixed. Comparing tar sands spills with other oil spills is apples and oranges. It doesn’t make sense.”  

The study comes at a time when approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is hotly contested, yet avoids the question of the probability of whether that pipeline will spill. The State Department’s own analysis shows that Keystone is likely to spill an average of 1.9 times per year. An already existing tar sands pipeline called Keystone 1, billed as the safest pipeline in history when it was built in 2010, spilled 12 times in its first year of operation, more than any pipeline in U.S. history. 

Other tar sands pipelines have also spilled with disastrous consequences. The ongoing cost of cleaning up the massive Kalamazoo, Mich. spill is now approaching $1 billion, and experts are not sure whether habitat there will ever be restored. Three months ago a tar sands oil spill in a Mayflower, Ark. neighborhood forced residents to abandon their homes and made residents sick by exposing the community to carcinogenic benzene. Conventional crude floats on the surface of water but when tar sands oil spills the heavy bitumen sinks and the benzene containing diluents evaporate, rendering traditional spill clean-up technology useless, and exposing people nearby to dangerous vapors. 

“We’ve already seen that moving tar sands oil is anything but safe,” said Greenwald.  “Spills are only one of many reasons President Obama should reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The continued development of tar sands is a terrible idea and is sure to have disastrous impacts on our climate, freshwater, land and air.”

The National Academy of Sciences study was mandated by Congress in response to the disastrous spill of tar sands oil in the Kalamazoo River. Rather than evaluating the safety record of TransCanada or the relative safety of Keystone XL, the study only considered whether pipelines moving tar sands oil are more likely to spill than those carrying heavy crude.

The report was released just before the president’s speech on climate change, in which he said that Keystone XL will only be approved if it does not increase greenhouse gas emissions. Extraction and refinement of tar sands oil produces 2 to 3 times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil and gas operations, and the tar sands as a whole represent a massive new source of fossil fuels; there is no question that Keystone XL will fuel further development of Alberta’s tar sands, with disastrous consequences for the climate.

“If President Obama is serious about battling climate change, his first step must be to say no to Keystone XL,” said Greenwald. “Tar sands oil causes unacceptable harm to our climate and our planet.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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