Pipelines and Precedence: Understanding What’s Happening in Your Own Backyard.

Today news broke that a pipeline going through my neck of the woods (literally) leaked 50 thousand gallons of drilling fluids into a wetland area near a property owned by my former university. This hit me hard as I have been seeing this pipeline go in for months now, and have been getting increasingly frustrated with the lack of information on construction locations, company info, etc. I know there isn’t much I could have done to stop the spill, but it is all so close to home that I feel responsible to know what is happening.

This pipeline is traveling through a field that I have sat and watched the sunset over many times (pictured above) and near that university wetland that holds many memories for me, and huge environmental importance for the area (as all wetlands do). For me this isn’t only an environmental issue, it’s a heart issue. I still go to this wetland area now, and do all the same things, and hearing about this has me really fired up. When I get fired up, I want answers.

So, as this blog is for talking about misconceptions, I figured I would hit some major ones about pipelines. Some are things that I just learned, and as this pipeline travels through the landscape so close to home I think I am going to continue learning more and more. If any of this information is wrong, please do correct me! Like I said, this is a learning experience for me, and the reason I have been learning about this is because I want to know more about what is going on. If you have more information to share please do! If you choose to share information, please do it like a respectable scientist (and human being): kindly and patiently. Because let’s be honest, in any other form I am just going to ignore you! Thanks for being civil!

Misconceptions and Lesser-known Pipeline Information:

  1. Companies aren’t required to make their plans and updates available to the public. I read an article today that included a statement from our county engineer that said he really had no information to provide because the oil company is, “not required to provide updates.” This spill has obviously opened the informational floodgates if you will, because the oil company was required to divulge the event to the EPA, but I have been struggling to find information on the pipeline itself for months with little to no luck.
  2. Drilling mixes such as the ones that were spilled in this event aren’t strictly regulated, so when they spill or leak into surrounding areas there are known substances like bentonite, which is a clayish (extra sciencey term) substance used to cool and lubricate (lol) drills during work. However, there is a different cocktail of chemicals in every company’s arsenal. When a spill happens, the company is required to stop production and mitigate it, but the EPA doesn’t know what potentially harmful agents have escaped into the environment until they test for them. Even bentonite has extremely limited information regarding effects on environments, and the knowledge of the substance’s effects on humans appears to be limited as well. Chemicals all have safety information associated with them called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Here is a link to the sheet for bentonite. This may not sound exciting to a person who has never seen one, but MSDS forms are extremely user friendly and answer a lot of questions regarding the safety, usage, and known information on substances.
  3. Companies are not necessarily required to have permission from landowners to lay pipes. Easements could have been negotiated and already be existing, or companies can use eminent domain to give them access to the land without land owner consent. This has a lot of legal speak involved, which I am terrible at traversing, so if you want to read a bit more or if you can break this down better than I can in simple terms let me know!

This topic is super entangled with all sorts of political, social, economic, environmental issues and I will never be able to cover all of the misconceptions and lesser known information the way it needs to be.

This topic doesn’t have to be polarizing.

This is a community issue, and I want to treat it that way. Whether you think pipelines are good or bad, or if you have more information on how they work/why they are important/why they are scary to you, I want to talk about it. This story in my hometown isn’t the only case of not knowing until after the fact, and it shouldn’t be like that. To be aware of what’s happening in our own backyards we need calm conversations to take precedence over our egos and personal opinions. I just want to get to know your story and ideas, so let’s talk about it!

If you are interested in reading more about the pipeline leak that happened in my neighborhood, here are links to a local news source, and a release from the Alt National Park Facebook Page where I first saw the news break.

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