Saturday, July 23, 2011

a devastating spill you likely never heard of...

July 23, 2011

Oil spill cleanup on Kalamazoo River continues a year later

River still shows damage from Enbridge pipe rupture
/ The Detroit News
Marshall — A year after the worst spill in Michigan's history, pockets of oil contamination remain along a 40-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River, and that is still closed to the public.
Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the underground oil line rupture in Marshall Township that sent 800,000-plus gallons of crude into the surrounding area and, eventually, the river. Oil flowed west down the river, causing problems for a string of communities including Ceresco, Battle Creek, Galesburg, Augusta and Kalamazoo. It brought thousands of local, county, state, federal and privately contracted cleanup workers to the region and drastically altered the way of life for many.
After 12 months of work, isolated problems remain and it's unclear if the river will reopen before the end of the summer. Residents have pulled up stakes and sold their homes to pipeline owner Enbridge Inc. rather than remain in the midst of the cleanup work. Thousands of animals had to be captured, cleaned and released after coming into contact with the oil.
And to outsiders, this area has become synonymous with the spill.
"We're nearly a year into our Enbridge pipeline oil spill response and we can certainly point to tremendous cleanup results," said Susan Hedman, the EPA's regional administrator. "But work continues. It will continue for a number of years."
Despite the turmoil, life in the affected area has settled into something approaching normal, according to many who live here. Enbridge officials said they have removed roughly 90 percent of the released oil. Crews will continue to work to meet deadlines for cleanup that could allow parts of the Kalamazoo River to be open to the public in late August.
The biggest remaining cleanup issues center on collections of submerged oil in three main locations: a dam near Ceresco, a mill pond at Battle Creek and, at the western end of the contaminated stretch, where the mouth of the Kalamazoo River empties into Morrow Lake. The Enbridge crews are trying to meet an Aug. 31 deadline in accordance with an EPA directive.
In addition, Enbridge continues to buy homes along the 40-mile stretch to help the hardest hit families. To date, the company has bought 130 properties.
For its efforts, the company has earned generally complimentary reviews from local and state officials. Marshall City Manager Tom Tarkiewicz recently graded Enbridge's performance as an A.
Not everyone has been as charitable.
More than 100 residents complained of headaches, nausea and vomiting in the weeks after the spill, and the state Department of Community Health plans to study the long-term health impacts from the mishap.
Enbridge also faces a civil lawsuit charging the company with negligence and "strict liability for abnormally dangerous activity." The latter charge could be precedent-setting as it labels simply transporting oil — particularly tar sands oil, the corrosive form that was in Enbridge's line that ruptured — as inherently dangerous.
Company officials estimate the spill will eventually cost $550 million, and Enbridge's insurance carrier will likely cover all but $35 million to $45 million. Losing the case could potentially mean large financial penalties. Last year, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center estimated Enbridge could be liable for up to $100 million in civil penalties.
But not all of the problems generated by the spill have to do with money.
Many have left homes
Jack Cull's buddies were never far away last year. Whenever the 8-year-old wanted someone to play with, he could hop on his bike in the Squaw Creek neighborhood where three of his best friends were just doors away.
It was a small, out-of-the-way Marshall Township community where everyone seemed to know everyone and Cull's father, Toby, didn't worry much about his son or strangers passing through.
But a branch of the Kalamazoo River — one right near the site of the Enbridge line rupture — passes through as well. In the months following the spill, Toby Cull estimated 17 neighbors opted to sell their houses and leave. That included the families of Jack's friends.
"Now he has nobody here," Toby Cull said. "That's the biggest thing Enbridge can't put a price on — what they've done to our daily lives."
In places like Squaw Creek, with roughly 70 homes, the results of the home-buying program are noticeable. Many houses are obviously empty and certain stretches have a ghost town feel to them. Yet even unoccupied properties are well-maintained and some of the homes have been rented to Enbridge contractors. It's part of the company's efforts to lessen the negative impacts of the spill.
Of the 130 homes purchased, 114 are in Calhoun County where Marshall Township is located and the remaining 16 are in Kalamazoo County.
'Just plain trapped'
Oil spills aren't standard training for assessors, so Robin Kulikowski essentially had to create her own playbook over the last 12 months.
The flood of home purchases by Enbridge has slowed but, to date, the company has bought 64 in Kulikowski's Marshall Township alone. Among its roughly 3,000 residents, those sales could have had a drastic impact on home values and tax rates.
Kulikowski, the assessor for Marshall Township, has worked to keep local residents from taking a hit. She has held the Enbridge purchases out of her annual calculations for the township's assessed property values.
The company, she said, agreed to pay market value for the homes and now takes over as the taxpayer. Market value is higher than most of the homes were selling for at the time she said — something that could have skewed the tax rates.
But Kulikowski's efforts have not eased the worries of some residents, she said.
"People are concerned that when these homes are put up for sale people won't want to buy them because of the oil spill," she said.
Cull said the oil spill has devalued his home — one that was not eligible for purchase in Enbridge's program because it was considered too far from the river.
"You're just plain trapped," he said. "It's going to take at least 10 years for these homes to get their value back."
In addition, there are worries about how Enbridge will sell the homes. If they let the properties go at rock-bottom prices just to be rid of them, values of the surrounding homes are likely to drop.
If they put the homes up for sale at the same time, the market will be flooded, Kulikowski said.
Enbridge officials said they plan to address home sales on a case-by-case basis.
"Enbridge is committed to having no negative impact (on) market values," said Jason Manshum, a company spokesman, in a written response to questions.
"If Enbridge elects to sell a home, we are committed to selling it consistent with current market conditions. In fact, we have received strong interest in Enbridge-owned properties."
Some businesses perk up
Summertime's normal activities — camping, canoeing, fishing and inner-tubing — are not happening this season at Shady Bend Campground. After four decades of operation, the signs on the camp that sits alongside the Kalamazoo River just outside of Augusta all say "Closed for the season."
Mark and Diane LeBlanc have operated Shady Bend for the last 22 years.
"We've been closed ever since the spill took place," Mark LeBlanc said. "But Enbridge has worked with us."
For the most part, few businesses along the affected stretch of the Kalamazoo have been adversely impacted by the spill. Even Shady Bend is likely to survive.
Matt Davis, chairman of the board of the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce, said only a very small portion of the region's economy is tied to recreation along the river. As such, he said the oil spill has not had a big impact on the local economy.
Enbridge agreed to rent out the LeBlanc's operation for the summer as a river access point for cleanup crews. The LeBlancs said they hope to be open for business again in 2012.
In some cases, however, the spill has been good news. At some point, 2,500 workers were in the region last summer to address spill impacts. At Marshall's Rose Hill Inn bed and breakfast, owner Carol Lehman saw plenty of unfamiliar faces between August and November.
"We had lots of interesting guests for about three months," she said. "At first there were local families forced out of their homes by the oil spill. Then, after a while, we started seeing scientists, Enbridge people, reporters and even a film crew."
Local favorite Pastrami Joe's has two locations — in Battle Creek and Marshall. The spill brought plenty of new people to both restaurants last year. For a few months, owner Mike Caron said, business "probably doubled."
(313) 222-2034

Friday, July 22, 2011

Yellowstone Oil Spill Reveals Gaps In Pipeline Oversight

07/21/11 05:29 AM ET AP
BILLINGS, Mont. -- Three weeks after a broken Exxon Mobil pipeline spilled 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River, federal officials remain unsure how many pipelines carrying hazardous fuels cross the nation's rivers and streams, nor can they say how deeply those pipelines are buried.
The spill into the Montana river amid historic flooding this month drew attention to what had long been an overlooked part of the nation's energy infrastructure: the presence of pipelines underneath rivers coursing throughout the country. The spill raised concern that other underwater pipelines may have been exposed to debris by high and fast-moving waters that swept much of the U.S. in recent months.
As regulators scramble to gauge what other lines might be at risk, lawmakers from both parties are raising alarms that another spill could be imminent unless the government steps up oversight of the largely self-regulated pipeline industry.
"If we don't know where the (pipelines) are in the ground and how many crossings are under rivers and streams so we can check on them, we're asking for another catastrophe," said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
Tester, a Montana Democrat, said he was dismayed that the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration could not immediately provide an inventory of pipeline crossings when he requested the information. "We had massive water this year, make no mistake about that. We need to re-evaluate the impact of those floods on the river crossings," he said.
Pipeline safety officials on Wednesday gave The Associated Press a preliminary estimate of 35,000 river, stream and lake crossings within the country's half-million-mile network of natural gas and hazardous liquid transmission pipelines. They said a review of pipeline crossings in the Missouri River basin in Montana and Wyoming is under way and there are plans to expand that effort nationwide.
But the federal government still can't pinpoint exactly where the crossings are, and has no information about additional spots where smaller gas distribution and gathering pipelines traverse streams, said spokesman Damon Hill.
Federal regulations require that pipelines crossing rivers be buried at least four feet underneath most riverbeds. They can be placed at shallower depths if the soil is rocky. There is no requirement for companies to periodically re-evaluate the original depth.
Flooding rivers can scour riverbottoms and expose pipelines to powerful water currents and damaging debris. That's the prevailing theory of what happened to Exxon Mobil in Montana although the investigation into the spill is not complete.
Exxon Mobil had recently examined the Montana pipeline prior to its July 1 failure in response to local officials' concerns that the river bank was eroding amid violent river flows brought on by a record winter snowpack. Yet when another company with an adjacent natural gas line shut down the line over floodwater concerns, Exxon Mobil did not, a decision the company has since acknowledged was a mistake.
A survey conducted by Exxon Mobil last December indicated its pipeline was buried at least five feet beneath the river bottom.
Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton, who chairs the Committee on Energy and Commerce, said he was concerned current depth requirements did not go far enough, particularly in light of recent accidents. Last year, an Enbridge Inc. pipeline ruptured in Upton's district, spilling more than 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.
"The Yellowstone River incident is disconcerting in that it appears the operator and regulators had properly maintained and inspected the line where it ruptured, yet the spill still occurred," Upton said. "My concern is not that regulators are not doing their job, but rather whether or not the proper regulatory requirements are in place to prevent future incidents."
Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. and numerous other witnesses are scheduled to testify at a hearing before the committee on Thursday.
The pipeline safety agency says operators must protect their lines from damage, no matter the depth.
But pipelines that were built and laid in the ground before 1970 – when major pipeline safety rules went into effect – were allowed to remain at their original depth, even if it was less than four feet. Even now, if pipeline operators repairing their pipes find that some segments are too short to meet the depth requirements, the rules let companies keep those segments buried where they are.
One proposed pipeline that would carry crude oil extracted from western Canada's tar sands to refineries in the U.S would cross water bodies 1,904 separate times, including 389 crossings in Montana, 354 in South Dakota, 160 in Nebraska, 368 in Oklahoma and 633 in Texas.
The Keystone XL project – which would run from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast – has drawn fierce opposition from environmental groups who call it an ecological disaster waiting to happen.
"This pipeline would go through the most productive parts of the Ogallala aquifer, the Sandhills region, where there aren't any other oil pipelines," said Anthony Swift, a policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council which wants the government to give the project more rigorous environmental review. "The water table is at ground level in some of that region, so a spill could cause an instant problem."
Pipeline company TransCanada carefully selected each crossing for the Keystone XL project after weighing possible threats of erosion or the potential for floods to scour the riverbed, said spokesman Terry Cunha.
The company plans to place the pipe 25 feet or more below the riverbed at major river crossings, Cunha said.
The furor over the Yellowstone River spill comes 15 years after an even more damaging flood event in Texas in which eight ruptured pipelines spilled more than 35,000 barrels of oil and oil products into the San Jacinto River. More than 500 people were injured when the oil ignited.
That event spurred the National Transportation Safety Board to push for companies to adopt guidelines on how to deal pipeline crossings on flooded rivers. Those guidelines were adopted in 2005.
Former Conoco Pipe Line Co. president Tom Miesner said the guidelines reinforced the industry's longstanding focus on safety.
"No one wants a leak at all, and some of the most expensive leaks are going to be ones that occur in rivers," said Miesner, now an industry consultant and author.
Burke reported from San Francisco.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pipeline protesters hit Montana governor's office

By John S. Adams, USA TODAY

HELENA, Mont. — More than 100 environmental activists from across the country descended Tuesday on the Montana Capitol to demand Gov. Brian Schweitzer rescind his support for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and ExxonMobil's megaload transportation project.

Approximately 70 of those activists filled the governor's reception room, where they pounded homemade drums and chanted slogans such as: "No pipeline, no oil, the Big Sky State's too good to spoil."
Two activists also scaled the flagpoles in front of the Capitol and strung up a banner that read "Pipelines spill, Exxon kills. Big oil out of Montana."
Six activists from the environmental groups Earth First! and Northern Rockies Rising Tide, including one activist from Great Falls, locked their hands together within a mock oil pipeline made of PVC plastic pipe and said they wouldn't leave willfully until Schweitzer met their demands.
Law enforcement officials cut the activists out of the pipes. The group of activists dispersed late in the afternoon after police arrested two men and three women who refused to leave and were chained together.
Group members said earlier in the day that they would not leave until Schweitzer, a Democrat, gave up his support for two major projects related to oil sands development in Canada: the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport Canadian oil sands crude to the Gulf of Mexico; and the "Kearl Module Transportation Project," which would ship about 200 massive Korean-built oil sands processing modules across Montana highways to the Kearl oil sands region in northern Alberta. That megaload project is slated to start later this year.
Schweitzer met with the activists for nearly 20 minutes in the reception room of his office, but ultimately refused their demands.
"I'm not prepared to do that today," Schweitzer said.
Members of the group told Schweitzer that last week's rupture of ExxonMobil's Silvertip pipeline — which poured an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River downstream of Laurel — is a prime example of why Schweitzer should "toss big oil out of Montana."
"We feel the Silvertip pipeline disaster on the Yellowstone is just a preview of what's to come if you continue to cater to big oil's interests and turn us into what would essentially be an energy extraction colony," said Missoula resident Max Granger of Northern Rockies Rising Tide, a group that has led protests against the Kearl Oil Sands project and the development of the Otter Creek coal tracts in Eastern Montana.
After listening to the protesters complaints and demands, the governor said he hoped the environmental activists would put their passion toward ending the nation's addiction to foreign oil.
"I will say to you that this country uses an inordinate quantity of hydrocarbons. I would say to you that 25% of all the oil that's consumed in the world is consumed by us — you, me," Schweitzer said.
Protesters cut off Schweitzer several times during the 20 minute meeting before one activist began playing a honky-tonk tune on a piano in the reception room. At that point more than a dozen protesters jumped onto the large meeting room tables and began dancing and chanting.
In a news release, Northern Rockies Rising Tide criticized Schweitzer for publicly chastising ExxonMobil while continuing to promote the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, megaload shipments bound for the Alberta oil sands and other "extreme fossil-fuel projects" throughout the state.
"As the recent ExxonMobil pipeline disaster has made clear, Governor Schweitzer is attempting to turn Montana into an extraction state, while at the same time publicly proclaiming his supposed support for clean energy, protecting the environment and building healthy communities," said activist Erica Dossa of Bozeman. "It's one or the other — you can't be clean and dirty at the same time."
A report released Monday by University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering professor John Stansbury said that neither TransCanada nor the federal regulators evaluating the proposed Keystone XL pipeline have properly considered the risks associated with the project. Stansbury's report states that TransCanada underestimated the frequency of spills on the pipeline and the severity of the worst-case scenario spills.
TransCanada disputed the report's findings, saying in a lengthy statement that the company has more than 60 years of experience, and that safety is the company's top priority.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pipeline Spills: Learning from Disaster

By Amy Bracken

With all the catastrophic oil spills that have happened around the world, one might assume that energy companies and regulators have learned their lessons, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

After every disaster, there’s talk of strict laws, enforcement, and oversight. Talk. Indeed, some good measures are put in place, but they’re undermined by cut corners. BP surely had an assortment of impressive measures in place when, as a White House report concluded, it took cost-cutting measures that increased the risk of a blowout.

But now let’s look at Exxon, since that’s who recently spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude into the Yellowstone River in Montana.

I used to live in Valdez, Alaska – a small town made famous by the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, in which tens of millions of gallons leaked into the Prince William Sound, killing more than 100,000 birds, otters, seals and whales. Working for a local radio station 20 years after the disaster, I interviewed subsistence and commercial fishermen, hunters and tour boat operators about the tragedy. Some still teared up talking about the sight of the flailing oil drenched wildlife.

Litigation took so long that many affected by the spill died before seeing any of the compensatory and punitive damages they were owed. Even for those who did receive thousands of dollars, what the spill had taken from them would be lost forever. After the accident, nearby Native American villages emptied out. Residents were forced to abandon subsistence lifestyles, join the cleanup effort, and then seek jobs elsewhere, precipitating the loss of already endangered languages and cultures. Families were also casualties of the spill, as instability, unemployment and depression broke up marriages.

Today, Prince William Sound looks pristine again, but tar balls continue to cling to the sand of some beaches, and the herring population has never rebounded.

Meanwhile, locals are terrified of another spill – not so much from another tanker in the Sound as from the pipeline that runs through Alaska and across precious wetlands upon which moose, bear, salmon, swans, and millions of shorebirds depend. And there’s good reason to be terrified. Spills along other parts of this pipeline are, in fact, a common (and often unpublicized) occurrence, with thousands of barrels leaking due to corrosion and accidents.

And then there’s the latest large spill, on the Yellowstone River in Montana. The cause of the crack in the pipe under the river is still unknown, and it took the company an hour to stop the leak. By that time, some 42,000 gallons had spilled into the rushing water. With the river flooded, oil coated lawns, farmland and ponds. Among the affected are fishermen (the river is known for its fishing), farmers (who use the river for irrigation) and neighbors (who worry about health effects of inhaling fumes from the spill). But the scope and severity of the impact is not yet known. Oil has been found more than 270 miles downstream.

Now let’s return to Belize. If such a disaster can happen in the United States at the hands of one of the world’s richest and largest oil companies, what does it indicate about the risks of oil exploration by a small private company in a country like Belize, where laws and enforcement are far more lax?

Texas-based US Capital Energy (USCE) has been exploring for oil within the Sarstoon Temash National Park, cutting seismic lines that cross both Sarstoon and Temash rivers, and many creeks. If a spill were to happen in this area, the impact on the nearby wildlife and villages could be catastrophic. The park itself is home to threatened and vulnerable species, like the West Indian Manatee, the Hickatee Turtle, and the Morelett’s Crocodile – all of which could be directly hurt by a spill. This is one reason that the convention on wetlands in Ramsar, Iran, designated the park ‘a wetland of international importance.’ And oil in the Temash would surely spill into the ocean and reach the barrier reef, which lies just some 50 miles offshore – a small fraction of the distance oil has traveled in the Yellowstone River. Finally, as in Alaska, small, nearby indigenous villages would be most affected by any harm to this natural environment.

And yet, protection of this precious area is anything but guaranteed. The Belizean government is so blithe to health, safety and environmental risks that it didn’t even demand an Environmental Impact Assessment for USCE to explore there until it was required to by a Supreme Court ruling (SATIIM vs. Forest Department). It is this very administration, along with the determined but cash-strapped Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), that is charged with protecting the park.

The prospect of oil in one’s backyard can spark the imagination, eliciting hopes of quick development and wealth, an escape from the hardship of daily life. USCE might indeed build a swing set or a building to house a clinic and bring some computers to a village. It might also provide some temporary jobs and pave a road, but the real long-term and irreversible impacts just might be environmental, economic, and cultural devastation.

Corporations and governments might not learn from past mistakes, but the people who will suffer from them have a responsibility to study, learn, and join together to demand their own protection.

For more information on oil drilling and the Sarstoon Temash National Park, contact SATIIM:,, 501-722-0103, 81 Main Street, Punta Gorda Town, PO Box 127, Toledo District, Belize, C.A.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bringing the Amazon to Central America

Sarayaku at the Inter-American Court in Costa Rica

July 11, 2011 | Andrew Miller

Amazon Watch
Over the past four years as an Amazon Watch campaigner, I have had the opportunity to meet some extraordinary indigenous leaders from around the region. None are more inspirational, however, than the tremendously savvy, well-organized, and persistent Kichwa from Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Last decade, the Ecuadorian government made the mistake of trying to force oil exploration on the Kichwa, without any prior consultation. When the community pushed back, the government sent in military forces and the companies used nefarious divide-and-conquer strategies, including inciting violence. This is of course standard across the Amazon. In this case, however, the colluding forces of government and oil companies didn't comprehend how fierce and dogged the community's resistance would be.
Sarayaku is the model par excellence of how to wage a multi-pronged strategy on behalf of the rights of an indigenous people. The foundation is perpetual local-level community organizing, including an effort to build leadership and involve all sectors of the community. Building upon this, they have reached out to allies on national and international levels, strengthening a widespread network of support in Ecuador, Latin America, the U.S., and Europe. A third element is a commitment to building their own in-house technological and media outreach capacities.
All of this was evident this past week when a significant component of their international strategy – bringing the Ecuadorian state to court before the Inter-American human rights system – culminated before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. Because Amazon Watch's Ecuador Program Coordinator Kevin Koenig was otherwise busy back in Quito, I was tasked with accompanying them in San José. Previously, I had met a number of their leaders and organized meetings and media interviews for a delegation when they were in Washington, DC in late 2009.
By strategic choice, they turned the Court's hearing room into Little Ecuador, replicating their own dynamic and strengths to the degree possible. First, they brought an impressive group of community leaders, elders, and children, totaling 18. Then, they invited many indigenous and civil society allies to accompany them. Of course their lawyers from Fundación Pachamama and CEJIL were there. Additionally, their entourage included Humberto Cholango, the new president of Ecuador's national indigenous alliance CONAIE, a campaigner from Amnesty International's London headquarters, various other long-time allies, and myself from Amazon Watch.
Sarayaku harnessed the power of media and internet technology to get the word out about the landmark hearing, and to keep their own community members informed about each of their activities. Prior to their trip, Sarayaku whiz kid Eriberto Gualinga produced a short video as a popular introduction to the delegation's plans. They held multiple press conferences, in both Quito and San José, which garnered an increasing amount of coverage as the hearings drew near. The hearings themselves were telecast via the Court's website, and watched simultaneously on multiple continents, including within Sarayaku.
On Wednesday, the first day of the hearing, they prepared by dressing in traditional clothing and painting their faces with ceremonial designs. The group marched from their hotel to the Court and performed a ceremonial act immediately outside, bringing the full spiritual force of their homeland to the Los Yoses barrio of San José. The ceremony involved drumming, dancing, the invocation of a sacred song by 90-year old spiritual elder Sabino Gualinga, and the nasal inhaling of tobacco juice. Some 40 people, both friends and functionaries of the Court, watched on.
In the Court's hearing room, Sarayaku offered four witnesses, each of whom provided powerful and often emotional testimony. Patricia Gualinga spoke out and served as an interpreter for Sabino Gualinga and Ena Santi, both of whom delivered their testimonies in Kichwa. Marlon Santi, former president of both Sarayaku and CONAIE, broke down crying after entreating the government to respect the community's rights and to leave them to live in peace.
Though not a witness, Sarayaku President José Gualinga made a statement on behalf of the community in the final oral arguments session on Thursday afternoon. He concluded stating that "We have always, and will always protect and nurture our Mother Earth, the forest that nourishes us every day. We from the world of the Kichwa culture are always ready to defend the right to life and the rights of nature."
Expert testimonies were provided on Thursday morning. James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, spoke at length about the state of indigenous rights. He noted that, "Unfortunately, today there persists a line of thinking that continues with the image of the indigenous as a savage, though perhaps not using this word, and uses this image to justify new acts of undermining indigenous participation. But fortunately, there exists another line, one of recognition, appreciation, and inclusion of indigenous peoples. This line of thinking is a threat to the legacy of the history of oppression. This new line manifests itself in new international instruments, like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and new constitutions like that of Ecuador."

The Ecuadorian State's arguments were emblematic of how governments attempt to defend their egregious behavior. Some were standard – That oil development is essential to the broader development of the country and that the local communities are an obstacle to such. Others were bizarre – that the court having issued protection measures for Sarayaku somehow lessened the security of neighboring communities. Implicit within the latter argument is the notion that the Ecuadorian state has pushed that Sarayaku is the perpetrator of violence against their neighbors. This point was made by one of the State's witnesses, David Gualinga, a Kichwa individual who was expelled from Sarayaku 15 years ago and has since had a contractual relationship with oil companies and the government. Bringing a competing indigenous voice to the court is a standard tactic, attempting to demonstrate that there are conflicts amongst the indigenous groups.
James Anaya addressed this final point when he noted that many indigenous conflicts are brought on by outside interests.
The broader implications of the Sarayaku case
The Sarayaku case, focusing on events in 2002 and 2003, is really about the future of the indigenous territories which cover the great majority of the Amazon rainforest.  The Correa government is currently in the process of repeating the same violations of indigenous rights via expansion of oil exploration throughout the southern Ecuadorian Amazon without the consent of numerous affected indigenous peoples.  A favorable judgment in this case would add pressure for the Ecuadorian government to finally enter into good-faith consultation with affected and vulnerable communities.
The Sarayaku case is emblematic of dozens of other situations across the Amazon rainforest in which governments have promoted extractive industries, including oil extraction, mining, and mega-dam construction, against the express wishes of local indigenous peoples.  A strong judgment in favor of Sarayaku's claims would provide additional moral and judicial weight to the Amazon-wide demand for drastically improved protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and the defense of their environment.
The Court's judgment is likely to be made before the end of 2011. As in the case against Chevron, the eyes of the world are closely watching the legal outcome of the Sarayaku case within the Inter-American human rights system. Whatever the decision, however, the people of Sarayaku will continue to campaign for respect of their rights, and Amazon Watch will continue to support them.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Exxon has yet to craft Montana pipeline fix plan

Tue, Jul 5 2011

* No date for restart as investigation continues
* High river levels hampering investigation of cause
* Refinery at "minimum rates" until secure other supply (Recasts, updates details about spill, adds comments from pipeline company president)
By Kristen Hays and Erwin Seba
HOUSTON, July 5 (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N: QuoteProfileResearchStock Buzz) does not have a definite repair plan yet for the ruptured Montana crude oil pipeline that it shut over the weekend, and company and government officials are still trying to determine the cause of the spill, a top executive said on Tuesday.
The company and state and federal investigators are "working in parallel, looking at both the investigation, trying to determine what happened, as well as possible repair plans," Gary Pruessing, president of Exxon Mobil Pipeline Company, told reporters in a briefing.
"We do not yet have a definitive plan on when we will be able to restart the line," he said.
Exxon estimated that up to 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) of oil spilled into the rain-swollen Yellowstone River when its Silvertip crude oil pipeline ruptured late Friday. Exxon said it shut the 40,000 bpd pipeline early Saturday within seven minutes of discovering a pressure loss that indicated a rupture.
High, rushing water in the river was hampering the probe, but Pruessing said the company hadn't confirmed any soiled areas beyond 25 miles downriver.
"River levels continue to be very high, the river is very strong, that does become something we need to consider in trying to get at the actual site where the incident occurred," Pruessing said.
He said Exxon may use directional drilling to reach the rupture site.
"We need to give the experts a little bit of time to determine the safest way to do the repair," he said.
The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are investigating the cause of the spill, along with Exxon Mobil and Montana state environmental regulators.
Sherman Glass, global president of Exxon's refining and supply, said the company's 60,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in Billings, Montana, was running at "minimum rates" as the shut pipeline is its primary source of crude supply.
Glass said Exxon was working with other refineries in the area to line up additional crude supply, with "some success," and that the plant would have adequate gasoline and diesel for customers "for at least the next couple of weeks."
"We're optimistic that over the next few days we'll line up the crude needed to keep the refinery running. Maybe not at full rates, but certainly running well," Glass said.
Last year Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO: QuoteProfileResearchStock Buzz) experienced two larger leaks from ruptured crude oil pipelines.
Nearly a year ago Enbridge's (ENB.TO: QuoteProfileResearchStock Buzz) 290,000 bpd Line 6B, which runs from Indiana to Ontario, was shut for nine weeks after it ruptured and spilled 19,500 barrels (819,000 gallons) of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River system. The line feeds refineries in Detroit, Toledo, Ohio and several in Canada.
In September Enbridge's 670,000 bpd Line 6A, which feeds Chicago-area refineries as well as the Cushing, Okla. crude oil hub, leaked 6,100 barrels (256,200 gallons) of crude near Romeoville, Illinois, and was shut for about two weeks. (Additional reporting by Anna Driver; Editing by David Gregorio)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Courting Justice: Sarayaku v. Republic of Ecuador
July 1, 2011 | Kevin Koenig
Amazon Watch

In a packed press room in Ecuador's National Congress building yesterday, leaders of Sarayaku – the representative community of Kichwa indigenous peoples at the gateway to Ecuador's Amazon – brought their calls for justice to the country's capital en route to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica, where they will testify in the final hearing of their case against the Republic of Ecuador for human rights violations.
The case stems from a variety of rights abuses inflicted upon the community between 2002 and 2003 when armed forces and oil workers from Argentine company CGC entered Sarayaku territory – without the permission nor consultation of the community – and began seismic testing activities in search of oil.
"In the beginning we did not understand what was happening, it seemed like a nightmare; all of a sudden armed forces entered with the petroleum company," recalled Sarayaku President Jose Gualinga in a press release. "We had always believed that there was a respect for our territory and our authorities. The company incited panic, created divisions amongst families and provoked violence. The impacts are still felt and will be difficult to erase from our memory."
In response, Sarayaku waged a historic campaign to defend their lands and keep the company out. Met with adamant resistance, the Ecuadorian military and company, in cahoots, sought to break the community by any means necessary. Sarayaku members were detained and tortured by the armed forces at the CGC oil facility, the military blocked and patrolled rivers in and out of Sarayaku in an attempt to isolate and intimidate the community, and CGC left highly explosive material used in seismic testing scattered throughout Sarayaku territory.
The case has wide sweeping implications for indigenous peoples across the Americas. It is a major, precedent-setting case of accountability – will the government of Ecuador be held accountable for egregious rights abuses against its own citizens? Given that the current administration of Rafael Correa seeks to open up some six million acres of pristine rainforest and indigenous lands to new oil drilling, which includes Sarayaku, a "get out of jail free" card to the government will only guarantee future abuses.
Also at play is the right to consultation regarding "development" activities on indigenous lands. Sarayaku is advocating for the principle and application of Free, Prior, Informed, Consent (FPIC). This is essentially the right to say "No" to any proposed project that the community is not in agreement with. A binding decision from the Court on FPIC and its application this will not only set precedent in Ecuador (where there currently is no law on consultation though the Constitution guarantees the right to it), but throughout Latin America where indigenous peoples are fighting for this basic right.
According to Gualinga, "We do not want oil exploitation in our territory. Where there was seismic exploration there are no longer animals, the forest is empty. My people are fighting for their dignity, for reparations of the damages caused, and for the removal of the pentolite planted in our territory. We hope to achieve justice, that this never comes to repeat itself."
Stay tuned here where we will post updates of the Sarayaku delegation to Costa Rica and their historic effort for justice. The hearing will be streamed live on July 6th (3 pm Costa Rica time) and July 7th (9 am Costa Rica time) at
The roughly 20 men, women, children, elders and medicine people are still in need of financial support to get there. Please support them by joining the Cause on Facebook and donating now!

Monday, July 4, 2011

LA Times: Oil spill outrages Montana residents

Up to 42,000 gallons surge overnight Friday into the Yellowstone River, and some say Exxon Mobil's cleanup needs more oversight.

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times
July 4, 2011

An oil spill in Montana's Yellowstone River surged toward North Dakota on Sunday as outraged residents demanded more government oversight of Exxon Mobil's cleanup.

An estimated 750 to 1,000 barrels, or up to 42,000 gallons, spilled through a damaged pipeline in the riverbed, Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said. The break near Billings could be related to the river's high water level, officials said.

More than 120 people were working on the cleanup late Sunday, Jeffers said. But local officials said because of the raging floodwaters, only a handful of crews were laying absorbent pads and booms to trap the oil along short stretches of the river between Billings and Laurel. In some areas, residents said, oil may be flowing underneath the booms and continuing downstream in the murky water.

Jeffers said most of the oil was believed to be within 10 miles of the spill site, and Exxon crews were flying over the area late Sunday to assess how far it had spread since the Friday night spill.

But Montana's governor disputed the 10-mile estimate.

"Nobody can say definitively," Gov. Brian Schweitzer said. "It's too early. We need boats on the water," not just flyovers. Because of the high water, however, boats were potentially unsafe.

There were reports of oil as far as 100 miles away near the town of Hysham, Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy said.

Although the spill is downstream from Yellowstone National Park and the fertile Yellowstone fly-fishing grounds, some officials worried it could harm the tourism industry, which draws 11 million visitors a year to a state with a population of just 980,000.

"We take our rivers very seriously here in Montana," said Schweitzer, a soil scientist who planned to visit the spill site Tuesday. "We will not allow this catastrophe to affect the $400-million trout industry in Montana."

Schweitzer, a Democrat, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had been working with state agencies to investigate the cause of the spill and would test air, water and soil samples. Exxon will be expected to pay for the cleanup so that "everybody along that river is made whole," he said.

But residents were worried.

"We can't really tell what it's going to do for our fisheries downstream," Eric Beebee, 37, said as he worked Sunday at Bighorn Fly and Tackle Shop in Billings. "If it was going to affect anybody, it's going to be the farmers and the ranchers because the water is pushed up so high, when it recedes [the oil is] going to be left on their land."

Goat rancher Alexis Bonogofsky pulled on waders and slogged through the oily residue at the bottom of her pasture, snapping photographs of oily grass and water.

"Places where the water has gone down the soil is shiny, there's residue oil and you can see where the grass is already dying. I'm really concerned about the wildlife," said Bonogofsky, 30, who also works for the National Wildlife Federation. "I've seen Canada geese try to take off and they can't get lift because of oil on their wings."

An Exxon crew arrived at her ranch south of Billings late Sunday to lay absorbent pads on oil patches.

Bonogofsky and husband Mike Scott, 31, who works for the Sierra Club, were trying to organize landowners to demand more transparency and accountability from Exxon. She faulted local public health officials for failing to conduct their own reports and relying instead on Exxon.

"Exxon says they are monitoring it, but we don't have access to that data," Bonogofsky said.

"We're sort of in limbo here," Scott said. "We have been spending a lot of time in the soil, and our livestock has. Nobody is telling us what we could have been exposed to."

Jeffers said he met with some residents Sunday and assured them that company tests, including air quality monitoring, showed no cause for alarm.

"There's no effort to withhold important information from the public," he said. "We have not seen anything that causes public health concern."

Exxon pipeline workers became aware of a problem shortly before midnight Friday when pressure readings in the pipeline dropped, Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing said Sunday. Workers turned off the pumps within six minutes, he said.

Jeffers said Exxon had temporarily turned off the foot-wide pipeline in May out of concern that seasonal flooding could damage it. The company reopened it a day later after reviewing the 20-year-old pipeline's safety record.

"We did a safety analysis and concluded the line was safe to operate," Jeffers said.

The pipeline was last inspected in 2009 using a robotic device designed to detect corrosion and other flaws, Jeffers said.

The most recent depth tests, in December, showed the pipe was 5 to 8 feet below the riverbed, he said. But that was before record rains and melting snowpack flooded the river in May, which Exxon and government officials have said may have exposed the pipe to damage from debris.

"That's just speculation at this point," Jeffers said. "We don't know at this point what caused it."

Some officials feared the oil would reach the Missouri River, just across the border in North Dakota.

"The water is fast and furious," said Kennedy, the Yellowstone County official. "I'm hoping that we get it cleaned up and stopped before it even approaches there."