Pipeline Spill Reaches Only Natural Lake in Texas, Despite EPA and Sunoco Claims

oil sheenOn October 13th Sunoco Logistics’ Mid-Valley pipeline leaked at least 4,000 barrels of crude oil into Tete Bayou, a tributary that feeds Caddo Lake. For the last two weeks Sunoco has maintained that no oil has reached the lake itself, claiming that the spill was fully contained within the tributary. The EPA is also covering for Sunoco, insisting no oil has reached Caddo Lake, which is a major source of drinking water for thousands. Surprise! Sunoco and the EPA are wrong. Again.

“We’ve had reconnaissance on the spill pathway by foot, by boat and by air,” Bill Rhotenberry, area EPA investigator, said. “The oil has not reached the lake. The oil is approximately four tenths to five tenths of a mile upstream.”

It is almost always the case that whenever oil spills the corporation responsible lies about the harmful impacts and unfortunately our regulators often do very little to shine a light on the realities of the damage. The Caddo Lake spill is no exception. When Tar Sands Blockade heard the claim that “no oil had reached the lake,” we found that very hard to believe. We sent a small team to check it out for ourselves and as you can see, oil has very clearly reached the lake itself.

The amount of oil that has reached Caddo Lake is hard for us to estimate, suffice it to say it’s enough to burn the nostrils and cause headaches. The stench was overwhelming at times, and the oil thick enough to coat the sides of our canoe.

overlead caddo

photo credit KSLA News 12

It needs to be said that Sunoco and the EPA must be aware of this fact and both seem to be intentionally misleading the public. This overhead photo of where Tete Bayou meets Caddo Lake shows containment booms across most of bayou inlet; however, the booms DO NOT completely encircle the mouth of Tete Bayou and oil is freely flowing around them. Close up photos of the cloth booms reveal that some oil is being captured in the lake itself, yet nowhere in any news reports has this information been made public.

The Mid-Valley pipeline has spilled 40 times in the last 8 years. The law firm helping impacted residents reports that, “Property damages caused by these spills and leaks total at least $7.5 million. In 2000, 63,000 gallons of oil spilled into Campit Lake in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, due to pipeline corrosion. About 260,000 gallons spilled into the Kentucky River due to a rupture caused by girth weld failure in a pipe laid in 1950. Construction crews struck the pipeline in Burlington, Kentucky, causing 115,000 gallons to spill, 80 homes to be evacuated, and oil contaminating the sanitary sewer system and a creek. Approximately 20,000 gallons leaked into a nature reserve near Cincinnati in March, 2014 through a bottom-side dent that contained a five-inch through-wall crack in the pipeline. The spill was only discovered when public complaints came in about the odor. Remediation efforts are still underway over seven months later.”

boom 3

Cloth boom on Caddo Lake, evidence oil has reached the lake itself

To add insult to injury, federal pipeline regulators (PHMSA) have already given the green light for Sunoco to restart the Mid-Valley pipeline despite an admission by Sunoco spokesman Jeffrey P. Shields that “The cause of the failure is undetermined.”  The Mid-Valley pipeline is 65 years old! Evidently it is not fit for operation, since over the span of the last eight years it has spilled an average of once every 10 weeks. Nonetheless, PHMSA can find no reason to prevent Sunoco from resuming regular operations.  The pipeline delivers crude oil from Longview, Texas to Midwestern refineries and terminates near Detroit.

boom 1

Contaminated water flowing around Sunoco’s containment area. Evidence that oil is able to flow out into Caddo Lake.

Sunoco now claims that it has recovered over 3000 out of the roughly 4000 barrels that spilled, yet it also admits that is does not know exactly how many barrels spilled, it can only estimate. So far over 400 dead animals have been found by work crews, and by all accounts there is still a lot of area where remediation has not yet even started. In the area we investigated, the lack of marine life was noticeable. We spent hours in the bayou and never saw so much as a frog. The water surface, usually dancing with insects, was devoid of life.

boom 2

View of perimeter of containment area. Once again, oil is moving around the absorbent booms out into Caddo Lake.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/caddolake/

Landmark Keystone XL Trial Underway in Oklahoma

UPDATE: 11:30am– The six jurors have been selected! When it comes time to deliberate, only a simple majority (4 of 6) is required to reach a verdict in this case. Court in now in recess for Lunch. Will resume at 12:45

UPDATE: 10:45am– Jury selection still ongoing. Alec’s lawyer has asked the jury pool questions about who they think is responsible for protecting the public commons that we all depend on (the government? the people? corporations?), and how they feel about climate change.  Can humans influence climate long term? He has also asked if they have ever been so concerned about an issue that they took action to do something about it. What kinds of actions would be justified?

UPDATE: 9:15am, jury selection has begun.


Tar Sands Blockader Alec, “Climate hawk” Johnson argues threats of climate change and environmental harm justify his actions  

 ATOKA, OK –Thursday, October 23, 2014, 9:00AM— Alec Johnson, a 62 year old man arrested last year for disrupting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, attempts to make US history today by becoming the first to argue before a jury that he was justified in breaking the law to prevent the urgent threat of climate change. His defense is introducing a commanding consensus of climate science, including that of renowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen who has prepared written testimony for the consideration of the court, and will make clear that effective action to address the climate crisis is urgent, imminently harmful to living things, and can no longer be delayed.

 “The Keystone XL pipeline is a clear threat to our children’s future,” Mr. Johnson stated while addressing a crowd of supporters before entering the courthouse. “The fact that the southern leg of KXL was approved in Oklahoma and Texas represents a stark failure by federal, state, and local government to protect the atmosphere that belongs in common to the world’s people. Today I am defending our right to life, which depends on a habitable atmosphere, and in doing so I’m acting to protect that right for future generations.”

climate_hawk_locked_downOn April 22, 2013, Alec Johnson disrupted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline near Tushka, Oklahoma by chaining himself to heavy equipment and effectively halting work. Eventually the police were called and he was removed from the site and arrested. Now, more than a year after his arrest, Mr. Johnson presents his defense to an Atoka County jury. If convicted he faces up to two years in prison. To avoid that fate Mr. Johnson must convince the jury that enforcing future generation’s rights to a stable climate and livable environment is not a crime. This kind of ‘necessity’ defense rooted in climate justice could have national implications for the growing movement of resistance to the fossil fuel industry across the US.

“The necessity defense allows the defendant to inform the jury of the reasons he risked his liberty and faced arrest in order to prevent a greater harm to the public interest,” explains attorney Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. “As more and more Americans feel compelled to take action to prevent catastrophic climate disaster, the Courts will likely see this defense with increasing frequency.”

Trial proceedings are expected to carry on throughout most of today and potentially continue tomorrow. Mr. Johnson is facing two counts of a misdemeanor obstruction charge. A six person jury will deliberate on the two charges, requiring only a simple majority (at least four votes) to reach a verdict.

“As the father of two daughters, the threat that climate change poses to their future has become a defining commitment in my life,” said Mr. Johnson. “The debt we owe our ancestors we repay by looking after our children; it’s a sacred obligation.”

Permanent link to this article: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/kxltrial/

Can Astroturf Campaigns Reverse Climate Change?

Originally published in Free Press Houston on September 22, 2014. By Perry Graham.



Yesterday, over 300,000 people gathered in New York City for the People’s Climate March. Organizers for the march billed it as an “historic” event and “the largest rally about climate change in human history.” But don’t be fooled: although filled with people from the grassroots, this was not a grassroots-led event. And that matters, because it determines what possibilities are open to the movement going forward.

From the outset, 350.org and Avaaz dominated the march organizing. Despite the rhetoric of “participatory, open-source” planning and “being led by frontline communities,” these big NGOs kept their hands firmly on the wheel (and on the pocketbooks with millions of dollars to spend). They had the most to gain from large numbers of people turning out to the march – in the form of personal advancement and increased organizational funding from private foundations – and so the call for an inclusive, apolitical (no clear demands or political targets), “family-friendly” march is better seen as coming from a place of self-interest rather than a place of mutual respect for and solidarity with all the people and organizations involved.

The political logic behind this approach is that demonstrating broad and diverse support for climate action creates space for politicians to support it. The practical effect is that the NGOs have managed to constrict and contain dissent to the point where there is no interruption to business as usual for the UN. The more radical Flood Wall Street action is planned for Monday, the day before the UN meets, out of logistical necessity (that’s when people will still be in town after the march), yet has received not a word of acknowledgement, let alone support, from the big green groups. The NGOs prevent the UN Summit from being disrupted, and in return, 350.org is one of four US-based NGOs that is even allowed to sit in on the summit. While I’m sure this arrangement was not reached in such a cut-and-dry manner, it is impossible not to notice how convenient this arrangement is. Furthermore, there is no incentive for the UN to do anything differently than they might if the march had not happened.

Activists "Flood Wall Street" day after People's Climate March

Activists “Flood Wall Street” day after People’s Climate March

To further understand the disconnect between the NGOs and grassroots communities, let’s consider the theme of the march: “Action, Not Words.” Not all climate action is created equal, and the only action the UN seems prepared to work towards this week are carbon pricing schemes. While there may be some people claiming to be environmentalists who support these “market-based solutions,” climate and environmental justice advocates have long known that these false solutions only serve to allow corporate profiteers to continue business-as-usual while making an extra buck off “climate action.” These schemes have the unfortunate tendency of giving the biggest polluters the most credits, which they can sell for profit, as well as creating perverse incentives for corporations to pollute more just so they can be paid to reduce emissions. In the context of the vague, apolitical “demands” of the Climate March, the UN Summit could announce a commitment to a carbon pricing scheme and the NGOs would find cause to celebrate, while frontline communities realize that they would continue to suffer under such a policy.

Finally, let’s look at where these organizations are going with their strategy. Both Avaaz and 350.org have already started making noise about the UN climate change meeting happening in Paris in 2015 (called Conference of Parties, or COP-21). COP-21 is ostensibly important because it is where the world is expected to commit to a legally binding agreement on climate action, although the details of the agreement are not yet written. However, anyone who knows the history of UN climate negotiations realizes there is an odor of futility to them; a similar agreement was supposed to be made at COP-15 in Copenhagen in 2009, but that failed to happen. Why, then, would the big NGOs be echoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in putting all of their hopes for decisive climate action into this one meeting?

Perhaps more importantly, why are the NGOs ignoring COP-20, scheduled for this December in Peru? Could it be because of the People’s Summit on Climate Change, scheduled to run concurrently to the COP as a grassroots alternative?

If the COP negotiations carry the scent of futility, then the People’s Summit and related efforts (such as the Social PreCOP, scheduled for this November in Venezuela) are a breath of fresh air. This alternative track of meetings, which trace back to the 2010 World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, represent a global grassroots organizing effort of environmental and climate justice communities struggling to “change the system, not the climate.” They understand that climate change is the product of social relations of domination and exploitation, and that coordinated grassroots efforts on a massive scale are the best antidote to a system hell-bent on destroying people and the planet in the pursuit of profit.

To 350.org, Avaaz, and the other big green NGOs: here is the frontline grassroots leadership you profess to care so much about. It’s time for you to step back and follow their lead if you really want to see global action on climate change. Climate justice demands it.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/astroturf/

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