The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has asked the Attorney General to enforce cleanup and other action by energy company Marathon Pipe Line after an estimated 165,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from its pipeline in Edwardsville, some of which flowed into a creek, according to the state agency.
The oil leak started Friday morning in Edwardsville near Illinois 143 and Old Alton Edwardsville Road and entered Cahokia Creek, which is parallel to the pipeline.
The cause of the leak was not immediately clear. Marathon wrote in a statement that an investigation will be conducted.
In the decade since the record-breaking use of oil dispersants in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response, science shows they’re dangerous, potentially deadly, and rarely useful. A new court case is forcing the US EPA to reconsider their use.
When an oil spill occurs, responders have several options to manage the environmental effects, including using chemical dispersants (see figure). Chemical dispersants used on a surface oil slick can be effective at breaking up floating oil, which can help prevent the oil from reaching shore and harming sensitive ecosystems, according to studies GAO reviewed and stakeholders GAO interviewed. However, the effectiveness of applying dispersants below the ocean surface—such as in response to an uncontrolled release of oil from a subsurface wellhead—is not well understood for various reasons. For example, measurements for assessing effectiveness of dispersants applied at the subsurface wellhead during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had limitations and were inconclusive. In addition, there are limited experimental data on the effectiveness of subsurface dispersants that reflect conditions found in the deep ocean.
Chemically dispersed oil is known to be toxic to some ocean organisms, but broader environmental effects are not well understood. Dispersants themselves are considered significantly less toxic than oil, but chemically dispersing oil can increase exposure to the toxic compounds in oil for some ocean organisms, such as early life stages of fish and coral. Other potentially harmful effects of chemically dispersed oil, especially in the deep ocean, are not well understood due to various factors. These factors include laboratory experiments about the toxicity of chemically dispersed oil that use inconsistent test designs and yield conflicting results, experiments that do not reflect ocean conditions, and limited information on organisms and natural processes that exist in the deep ocean.
Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other agencies have taken some actions to help ensure decision makers have quality information to support decisions on dispersant use. For example, the Coast Guard and EPA have assessed the environmental effects of using dispersants on a surface slick. However, they have not assessed the environmental effects of the subsurface use of dispersants. By assessing the potential environmental effects of the subsurface use of dispersants, the Coast Guard and EPA could help ensure that decision makers are equipped with quality information about the environmental tradeoffs associated with decisions to use dispersants in the deep ocean.
Why GAO Did This Study
In April 2010, an explosion onboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in 11 deaths and the release of approximately 206 million gallons of oil. During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, responders applied dispersants to the oil slick at the ocean surface as well as at the wellhead more than 1,500 meters below the surface. The subsurface use of dispersants was unprecedented and controversial.
GAO was asked to review what is known about the use of chemical dispersants. This report examines, among other things, what is known about the effectiveness of dispersants, what is known about the effects of chemically dispersed oil on the environment, and the extent to which federal agencies have taken action to help ensure decision makers have quality information to support decisions on dispersant use. GAO reviewed scientific studies, laws, regulations, and policies. GAO also interviewed agency officials and stakeholders from academia and industry.
A severely corroded pipeline ruptured and spilled more than 300,000 gallons (1.1 million liters) of diesel fuel just outside New Orleans after the operator delayed needed repairs, according to federal records.
Most of the fuel drained into two artificial ponds called “borrow pits” and thousands of fish, birds and other animals were killed, state and local officials said Wednesday. The spill also contaminated soil, according to state and federal officials.
Wetlands painstakingly created with millions of dollars are the most devastating victims of the Huntington Beach oil spill. The trio of marshes provides rare feeding and resting grounds for at least 90 species of shorebirds.
Whomever shares the immediate blame, it was systemic under-regulation that set the scene for the spill. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration responds to more than 150 oil and chemical spills in US waters each year. But earlier this year, a report by the Government Accountability Office warned that the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, responsible for overseeing construction and monitoring of offshore oil drilling, was failing to properly monitor and inspect active pipelines.
An oil spill first reported on Oct. 2, 2021, has released thousands of gallons of crude oil into southern California coastal waters. The source is believed to be a leak in an underwater pipeline connected to an oil drilling platform 17.5 miles offshore. Oil has washed ashore in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach and into coastal marshes. Orange County has requested a federal disaster declaration. Charles Lester, director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Center at the University of California Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute, explains the scope of this spill.
How large is this spill, and how much coastline is affected?
Reports estimate that about 126,000 gallons of oil have spilled from a ruptured undersea pipeline, potentially affecting 25 miles of coast in Orange County. As a precaution, the state of California has closed coastal fisheries from Huntington Beach to the city of Dana Point, extending out 6 miles from shore.
Orange County also has dozens of popular beaches that millions of residents and visitors use. They generate billions of dollars in revenue for the state’s coastal economy every year.
How does this event compare to other major spills in California?
Offshore oil development always entails some risk of an oil spill. California’s ocean waters have experienced multiple spills over the past 50-plus years.
The largest was the 1969 Santa Barbara offshore oil blowout, which sent more than 3 million gallons of oil onto local beaches. It was a major disaster that helped launch the modern environmental movement.
Other large spills since then include the American Trader tanker spill off the coast of Orange County in 1990, which released 416,000 gallons, and the 2015 Refugio pipeline spill in Santa Barbara County, which released 123,000 gallons from an underground pipeline on land into the ocean.
Offshore oil production presents spill risks from both platform drilling activities and the facilities that move oil from offshore to refineries and storage facilities on land – including undersea and underground pipelines. The vast array of oil and gas infrastructure along California’s coast requires constant monitoring and maintenance to avoid spills like this one.
What kind of technology does the state have to contain and clean up the oil?
Time is of the essence in oil spill response. Responders are deploying physical barriers such as booms and using skimmer boats to contain and clean up oil floating on the ocean’s surface. They also are constructing sand berms in front of wetlands to protect sensitive areas from oil washing in with the tides.
Other cleanup technologies include using chemical and biological agents to help break down and disperse oil in the water column, and possibly burning off oil to help remove it from the water. Aerial reconnaissance will help the Coast Guard and state agencies track the location and scale of the spill.
What possible impacts of this spill are you most concerned about?
I am also concerned about longer-term impacts to sensitive wetland and rocky shoreline environments. Oil spills have a significant impact on our coastal economies, from fisheries to recreational activities, including beach closures.
Offshore drilling is very unpopular in California. How long do you expect it will continue?
I expect that many Californians will see this spill as yet more evidence that the state and the nation should make a swift transition to alternative energy sources, such as solar power and offshore wind. Burning oil and other fossil fuels is one of the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions that are heating the planet and changing its climate.