This has been a summer of capitalist disasters.
The most horrific was the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic that killed 47 people and contaminated Mégantic Lake and Chaudière River. According to Quebec’s Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks the train was carrying 7.2 million litres of oil, of that, the Ministry estimates that 5.7 million litres of oil was spilled. Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMAR) has already categorically stated that it cannot afford to pay the cost of cleaning up its mess – estimated at $8 million by the end of July but which could well climb up to $1 billion.
With permission from the Canadian government, MMAR used trains that the US National Transportation Safety Board said have “high incidence of tank failures during accidents” and which the CTSB judged prone “to release product at derailment and impact.” These cars, which have no double hull, are widely and legally used to transport petroleum products. Furthermore, the number of carloads of crude oil moving across Canada is drastically increasing: from 500 in 2009 to an expected 140,000 this year. This is staggeringly and criminally irresponsible.
Neither train nor pipeline
Pipelines are no alternative.
In late June, about 750 barrels of synthetic oil spilled from an Enbridge owned pipeline. The leak occurred in a portion of the pipeline that can only be accessed by helicopter and all-terrain vehicles. Plains Midstream spilled 950 barrels of natural gas by-product in northern Alberta in early June. On June 1, Apache Canada Ltd. spilled 9.5 millions litres of waste water in the same region.
This is not an exhaustive list.
Apache Canada has been responsible for 949 spills since 1975; of these, 517 were waste water spills. All in all, There were 23,484 of waste water spills in Alberta between January 1, 1975 and February 4, 2013. According to Global News, Alberta has had “28,666 crude oil spills in total, plus another 31,453 spills of just about any other substance you can think of putting in a pipeline – from salt water to liquid petroleum” in the past 37 years.
Unwilling and unable to be safe
After each of these accidents, we are told by dutifully apologetic press releases that safety is everyone's top concern. Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth. Enbridge's track record is atrocious and well known; this is the same company that asserts “that doing nothing is a possible response to a spill.”
After its most recent spill, Plains Midstream is now under audit for failure to comply with a number of Alberta's regulatory requirements, but the same company has received 19 high and low risk deficiencies and non-compliances since 2011 and in April of that same year released 4.5 million litres of oil north-east of the Peace River. It currently faces three counts under the provincial Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, but the maximum fine for these is only $500,000.
There were two oil rig fires in the Gulf of Mexico in July, one of which leaked 250 gallons of natural gas. The associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute in New Orleans called the most recent fire a small “blip on the horizon” – an easy enough claim since his standard for comparison was the 2010 BP oil spill which leaked 780 million litres of crude oil and it took 87 days to stop. Commenting on the accident, Michael Bromwich, former chief of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE, the same bureau which failed utterly to stop BP's criminal negligence in the lead up to the spill) observed that offshore work is “inherently risky” and that blowouts “aren't that infrequent.”
Canada = climate criminal
The centrality of oil for global capital means that wherever it can be found it is extracted with reckless abandon.
Canada's drive to become a major petroleum producer has meant that fossil fuels are a particularly unsupervised sector of the economy. The very scale of the capital investment involved and the urgency of exporting as much petroleum as possible before other countries, particularly the US, achieve greater fuel independence has meant that these corporations are encouraged to take risks in order to make as much money as they can as quickly as they can; risks carried almost entirely by the First Nations, workers, and the environment and never by CEOs or government ministers.
Even if no pipeline ever spilled, the tar sands would still devastate indigenous communities and serve as Canada's fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Even if companies wanted to be safe they could not. Tar sands by its nature is highly corrosive to pipelines, and once it leaks its carcinogens evaporate into the air or sink into the ground--making clean up impossible. Three years, and a billion dollars of clean up after an Enbridge spill contaminated the Kalamazoo River there is still oil on the river floor--poisoning the environment on which our life depends.
Capitalism: an environmental disaster
Industry under capitalism is always dangerous, and risky behaviour is abetted by government. In addition, the drive for businesses to always produce more and more means that all industries, not just oil, are trying to increase their size. Total cargo handled at Canadian ports and marine terminals increased by nearly 20 per cent between 2001 and 2011. The weight of shipments by truck in Canada increased by eight per cent between 2004 and 2011. The total weight of cargo carried by rail in Canada increased by 14 per cent between 1999 and 2012. With more trains, ships and trucks there will be more accidents. The disaster in Lac-Megantic is a taste of what's to come.
We need to transition to safer and less environmentally damaging sources of energy as quickly as possible. But capitalism lacks this basic rationality. In a single auction in March, the US Interior Department gave 307 leases for energy work on 38.6 million acres offshore Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Naturally, energy companies working in the Gulf of Mexico assure us that safety is their “No.1 priority”.
The truth is that our safety, and that of the planet we live on, can only become the 'No. 1 priority' after we have overthrown the rule of the capitalists and established a system in which production exists for the sake of human beings and our environment, and not the profits of the 1%.