Oil addiction will be our demise – spills and lawsuits (pt 2/4)
Updated: Nov 28
By Staci-lee Sherwood
If the media were to report on every spill, leak and accident that occurred in real time, they would need a designated team and report on nothing else. The public is rarely told about these until after the fact. If there was a weekly list posted for everyone to see, only the industry would still support this antiquated way of getting to an energy source. The damage done to the planet we live on can never be undone. The illusion of cleanups is theatre.
Despite the fanfare made by oil companies over lawsuits, they see the fines as the cost of doing business with no incentive to change. Greenwashing is the new catch phrase for the unethical methods many corporations employ to hide the truth. Unless the public starts to demand proof and become their own investigators this scheme will continue. Any true green technology will be left by the wayside and a genuine cleanup will never happen.
Previous studies claimed about half the oil spills were human caused, the other causes being natural like hurricanes and earthquakes. In 2022 a new more accurate study has been published in Science showing 90% of oil spills are human caused. Activists and watchdog groups have always known this. Here is the study https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abm5940
More than 13,900,000 acres of public land are already leased by oil and gas companies. More than half are not in use producing oil and gas. We’ve seen the damage done with what they are using can you imagine what it would look like if all their land was used? These companies will do anything to help themselves and hoard land, money and power. At the height of COVID the Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt asked then President Trump to declare COVID an ‘act of God’ to help ensure billions in payouts. They were rewarded by unsuspecting taxpayers.
Oil companies cry foul and poor when faced with lawsuits and fines. They will put off having to pay any way they can. Keep this in mind from a report by BailoutWatch, Public Citizen, and Friends of the Earth ‘the fossil fuel industry received between $10.4 billion and $15.2 billion in direct economic relief from federal efforts under President Donald Trump to sustain the economy through the pandemic of COVID.’ Money that should have gone to poor and working class families mostly went to a host of wealthy corporations, the energy sector being one of the biggest recipients. Click here to read the report but warning it will make you sick https://report.bailoutwatch.org/
Around the world of spills & lawsuits
Below is a small sampling of the bigger or more famous oil spills, accidents and ensuing lawsuits. They cover both on land and offshore drilling from several countries. The players are well known and each have had multiple spills and lawsuits. These accidents are never a one off or unique anomaly as is often portrayed by both industry and media. Standard operating is….drill on the cheap….ignore warnings and needed maintenance….deny there is a spill….point finger elsewhere…..complain and whine about having to clean up their mess and pay for it….lesson not learned…..pass costs to consumer…..repeat.
In 2010 behemoth British Petroleum shocked the world when their Deepwater Horizon blew in the Gulf of Mexico and caused one of the biggest drilling disasters ever. Contrary to company and government spin most of the oil was not recovered. Spraying Corexit made things worse. As a dispersant it did its job, it dispersed the oil out of sight, and eventually out of mind, but is actually more toxic than crude oil. More than 200,000,000 million gallons lost, that we know of.
There was hope the daily pictures of oil animals, sea turtles set on fire and gushing crude into the water would shift public opinion away from fossil fuels. It did for a minute then oil companies were back with their propaganda and things returned to business as usual. In 2012 criminal charges cost BP $4.5 billion and another $20 billion in 2015 in a civil settlement plus another $35 billion in economic and cleanup costs. This was a staggering amount of money even though the company was worth more than $180 billion and is still one of the biggest energy companies in the world.
Despite all this money thrown at cleanups and restoration most of the oil is still there, now buried deep in the sea bed stretching for miles, under sandy beaches and floating in the gulf stream. According to this article written in 2021 ‘For longer-lived and higher food-chain organisms in the deep ocean, residues from Deepwater Horizon oil are still detectable in their tissues.’
1 year after the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010
OIL gushing from the Deepwater Horizon hole 13 days after the accident
While everyone was focused on the biggest and costliest recorded spill in US history this was going on. Another leak happening in the Gulf of Mexico, the longest leak in US history, was coming from Taylor Energy’s sunken platform. At first Taylor Energy claimed the leak was only about 3 gallons a day, then is was discovered possibly 29,000 a day could be leaking. There is no way to really tell how much oil leaked.
The company lied about how much oil was leaking. The company didn’t report the leak, it was accidently discovered years later. They spent years fighting lawsuits and cleanup efforts. This is not unusual response but typical. Finally in 2018 the non-profit Earthjustice got involved and the leak was eventually contained after nearly 2 decades. Let that sink in. Cost was over $400 million.
A rainbow sheen in the Gulf of Mexico in 2011 from the downed Taylor Energy platform. Oil has been leaking from it since 2004.
In 1989 the world was shocked to learn about the disaster in Prince William sound when the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground spilling 11,000,000 gallons into the water. At the time it was the worst ecological disaster, and the largest from a tanker in US history. In 1991 it was reported that Exxon was to pay a combined fine of $1 billon over 10 years. They spent years fighting the payout in court while claiming publicly they were complying.
In 1994 a federal jury in Alaska awarded $5 billion in punitive damages in a civil trial. A federal judge later reduced that to $4.5 billion, then the appeals court further cut it to $2.5 billion. The Supreme Court got involved and overturned the award reducing it to just $507 million. For a company worth tens of billions that’s nothing, they could recoup that in a matter of days.
As reported in 2015 Exxon still hadn’t paid all their fines. Due to all the lawsuits, appeals and length of time this has dragged on it’s impossible to say unequivocally Exxon paid all, some or none of the fines. One thing that is sure, most of the oil is still there buried under the seabed, found in marine life tissue and embedded deep in the root system of vegetation. Crude oil is not easily removed especially in environmentally hostile conditions with a fragile ecosystem.
In July 2011 the Poplar pipeline owned by ExxonMobil ruptured. It poured estimated 63,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River. This is the iconic river that flows through America’s oldest national park Yellowstone NP. ExxonMobil paid fines over $12 million, which sounds like a lot but is merely the cost of doing business for a global multi-billion dollar corporation. They’re worth about $408 billion. https://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/2019/06/04/exxon-mobil-pay-1-m-settle-oil-spill-yellowstone-river/1346634001/
How can we protect national jewels and the public’s land when there is little to no oversight and accountability? Yellowstone River flowing through the park in 1996 before the spill.
Chevron / Texaco
In 2001 oil giant Chevron acquired Texaco, and with the deal came all their assets and civil liabilities. This means before the ink dried Chevron officials knew the environmental and health issues Texaco was responsible for doing while operating in Ecuador. One of the bigger liabilities was referred to as ‘Amazon Chernobyl”. This is a 1700 square mile disaster Texaco caused when they discharged more than 16,000,000,000 billion gallons of toxic water into the environment, eventually getting into the water and gouging 1000 unlined waste pits. Texaco operated oil fields from 1964-1992.
Chevron in turn claims they are not responsible and has not paid any fines. Litigation is still going on after two decades and has landed in courts from Ecuador and the US to Argentina and The Hague. To be fair it was Texaco that did the dumping up until 1992. Lawsuits began in 1993 and Chevron acquired them in 2001. At the time of the deal Chevron knew about the spill, the damage and the ongoing lawsuits. If they didn’t figure they would be taking over as plaintiff when it was clear they would absorb all of Texaco’s liabilities, then they failed to do their due diligence. That’s on them for making a bad deal. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/17/chevron-amazon-oil-toxic-waste-dump-ecuador-boycott
A decision came in 2011 by an Ecuadoran court that Chevron was on the hook for $18 billion. Chevron appealed and in 2013 an Ecuadoran court upheld the ruling but reduced the fine to $9.5 billion. Then in 2016 a Canadian court struck down the previous ruling of fines of $9.5 billion. Chevron is still fighting and hasn’t paid any fines. Because this has gone on for so long, literally traveled the world of courts and occurred after a takeover it’s difficult to keep track of details. Claims of fraud and bribery ensued.
What is known as facts are these; Texaco did massive damage to the water, land, wildlife and people exposed to the ongoing pollution. Texaco is responsible and never paid a fine, nor did they really clean up their mess. Texaco as a company no longer exists and is part of Chevron. When Chevron took over Texaco that deal included this legal mess. Their argument is weak they are just trying to get out of what they now see was a bad deal. Chevron has had their own spills but much smaller in comparison. As you read the timeline and know that Chevron counters every point consider what we know:
Oil companies rarely report spills at the time they occur
They always way under report how much oil is spilled
They under report how large the spill is
They blame everyone but themselves even though 90% are human caused
Cleanups are mostly illusion to assuage the public
They drag out lawsuits and remediation way past the time anything could be done
Click here for in-depth background with details about the case https://academic.oup.com/jiel/article/23/2/455/5878138
Whatever the final outcome the damage is already done and can never be cleaned up or restored.
Did you know that you can have a gas leak at the same time you’re drilling for oil? In March 2022, for at least 2 weeks but could still be leaking, natural gas leaked at seven different wells where more than 50,000 barrels of oil is produced every day. The Alpine oil field is one of the biggest in Alaska’s North Slope. This same company wants to drill in a portion of ANWR (Artic National Wildlife Refuge) called the Willow Project. Several days after the leak was discovered the company put out a statement saying they still couldn’t find the source and wouldn’t disclose how much gas had leaked. Several people had to be evacuated and locals in a nearby village smelled gas for several days. This is ongoing and fines have not been resolved yet.
ConocoPhillips’s business is drilling for oil. A gas leak occurs and it takes days or weeks to find the source, they downplay the incident but do not disclose how much is leaking. Now they want permission to drill more in a refuge on melting permafrost locking in a deal of 30+ years…..
In 2011 more than 50,000 tons of oil spilled into China's Bohai Sea, creating a slick that covers 2400 square miles. Local fisherman said it devastated the marine life, caused massive fish kills and scallop die off and destruction of their habitat. The Chinese fishermen sued in a Houston, Texas court stating the government of China would not let them sue in their home country. During the lawsuit it was revealed there were many other spills, some still ongoing. The cost of this spill was $351 million to China, which of course will be passed on to the consumer.
In late August 2022 the government of Peru filed papers in court to sue the Spanish oil company Repsol. Back in January more than 10,000 barrels spilled into the pacific when an underwater oil pipeline was hit while unloading at their refinery. The tanker is owned by an Italian company which Repsol says is at fault and they have denied responsibility. The matter is about to go to court and currently under investigation.
The civil lawsuit seeks $3 billion for environmental damage and $1.5 billion for damages to locals. Repsol initially said the spill was caused by "sudden and extraordinary anomalous waves produced by the volcanic eruption in Tonga". Later on they blamed the oil tanker. Whatever and whomever caused the pipeline to rupture the damage is done.
Enbridge Energy Partners, LLC/Lakelead Pipeline Company
In 1991 the now infamous Line 3 pipeline ruptured on a wetland near Grand Rapids, Minnesota. More than 1,700,000 gallons spilled into the Prairie River, a tributary to the Mississippi River making this one of the biggest inland spills. The Mississippi is one of the most contaminated bodies of water in the US and all that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. At the time Lakelead Pipeline was the owner before Enbridge Energy bought them out. The clean up cost about $13 million.
This comes after their 1973 spill of over 1,000,000 gallons also in Minnesota. Between the 1970s through to the 1991 spill, there were 24 leaks from the same seam failure in Line 3 of which 16 were considered major oil spills. If the news only reported all these spills they would have no time left over for anything else.
In 2002 another pipeline oil spill by Enbridge, a Canadian owned company. This time at least 252,000 gallons of crude oil leaked and the cost was $5.6 million.
In July 2010, a massive oil spill in excess of 1,000,000 million gallons, was discovered in Talmadge Creek, a small tributary to the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Mich. It was the result of a ruptured pipeline managed by Enbridge Energy Partners, LLC. The ‘cleanup’ cost over $1.2 billion and took two years. In 2013 the EPA ordered the company to go back and do more clean up. This was three years after the rupture and logically would not be possible to recapture or remove much if nay oil. After all this time residue would be too embedded and buried. Tar sand oil is more difficult to clean than non tar sand oil.
A history of their spills copy & paste link from 350.org report
Summit Midstream Partners
In 2014 the biggest inland oil spill occurred in North Dakota. More than 29,000,000 gallons spilled, at this level is spill the best descriptive word? Summit Midstream Partners pled guilty to criminal charges violating the ‘Clean Water Act, as amended by the Oil Pollution Act 1990, negligently causing the discharge into US water in 2014, and deliberately failing to immediately report the spill to federal authorities as required.’ The spill was discovered 143 days afterward. Some of the wastewater reached Blacktail Creek, which flows into the Missouri River.
The spill lasted five months and the company paid $15 million in criminal fines and was sentenced to three years probation. Click here to read the court docs https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/pipeline-company-sentenced-largest-ever-inland-oil-spill
What have we learned
As anyone can see oil spills are not rare, on the contrary they happen over and over again. The delay tactics and blame game continues because it’s been effective for the companies for decades. Change and accountability will only come when the people unite and demand it, the oil companies will never do it on their own. Look how they behave when they create the mess, they have no incentive to change even when fined billions of dollars. They know, because of our and the world’s addiction to their star product. they can recoup whatever they pay lawyers and fines quickly. It’s just their cost of doing business.
A little bit of sobering statistics
How oil companies would like the public to be….silent about the truth and not protest
Please click below for part 1 of the series
Please click below for part 3 of the series
Please click below for part 4 of the series
Also published on The Good Men Project September 19, 2022 https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/oil-addiction-will-be-our-demise-pt-2-spills-and-lawsuits-kpkn/