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Fossil fuels are known to have a negative impact on our environment, yet the demand for them continues to increase. So much in fact, that there are more than 2.5 million miles of crude oil and natural gas pipelines spanning across the U.S. like an intricate web, carrying millions of gallons of toxic substances under bodies of water and across land. The industry sells these pipelines as being the safest method of transport — but when they rupture, the damage has a devastating impact on wildlife and the environment.

A report from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shows 1,188 “significant” pipeline incidents involving crude oil between 1997 and 2016, resulting in the equivalent of 940,571 barrels — the equivalent of over 39.5 million gallons —being spilled into the environment.

Even after a spill has been cleaned up, the damage can have lasting effects on the environment. Oil works its way deep into sediment, where it has been detected up to 30 years after a spill has been cleaned up. Pipeline ruptures are becoming far too common, and with new pipelines constantly in the works, we have a legitimate reason to be concerned.

Enbridge Pipeline, Michigan

When a 30-inch diameter pipeline ruptured and sent over 1.2 million gallons of crude oil spilling into the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River, it resulted in one of the largest —and costliest at an estimated cleanup cost of $800 million—pipeline oil spills in U.S. history.

The pipeline, belonging to Canadian company Enbridge Energy Partners, ruptured near Marshall, Michigan in July 2010. Thick sludge seeped into the water for nearly 17 hours before the rupture was detected, contaminating over 4,000 acres of forested floodplains, islands, and wetlands as it traveled more than 40 miles downstream.

Drinking water was contaminated and it was recommended that people living near the cleanup areas evacuate their homes due to dangerous fumes. In addition to cleanup on land and the river’s surface, extensive dredging of the riverbed was required to remove submerged oil.

The damage was so extensive, it took nearly two years for a 34-mile section of the Kalamazoo River to be reopened for recreational use—and it wasn’t until 2014, four years after the spill occurred, that the EPA was able to demobilize from the site.

Silvertip Pipeline, Montana

3 Times Pipeline Ruptures Damaged the Environment and How You Can Keep This from Happening Again

Jeff Berglund / USFWS/Flickr

Montana is known for its breathtaking landscapes, but beneath the surface lies something that threatens its beautiful and diverse terrain. In July 2011, a rupture in the 12-inch diameter Silvertip Pipeline sent approximately 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilling into the Yellowstone River by Laurel, Montana.

The pipeline, owned by ExxonMobil Corp., was laid 8 feet below the riverbed, but had slowly become exposed in areas due to fast-moving currents, making it vulnerable to damage from rushing waters and debris.

The Yellowstone River was in a flood stage when the rupture occurred, forcing oil into the surrounding floodplains, where it coated vegetation and affected wildlife. During cleanup, oil was found as far as 67 miles downstream, though it was estimated the oil had traveled up to 240 miles from the rupture site.

Fish and wildlife, along with natural habitats were heavily impacted by the spill, which cost an estimated $135 million to clean up. Sadly, it wasn’t the only pipeline spill to affect the Yellowstone River in recent years.

Poplar Pipeline, Montana

In January 2015, four years after the Silvertip Pipeline caused excessive damage near Laurel, Montana, the Bridger Pipeline LLC’s Poplar Pipeline ruptured, spilling more than 30,000 gallons of crude oil into the river near Glendive, Montana. Once again, the pipeline had been buried several feet beneath the riverbed, but had since become exposed in areas due to the river’s current.

Ice was covering large portions of the river, trapping the oil underneath the surface and making the presence of oil harder to detect. The ice, along with fluctuating temperatures, also made cleanup more complicated — and dangerous. As the river thawed, oil was found as far as 60 miles downstream from the rupture site.

The spill threatened the city’s water supply, resulting in the water system being shut down on more than one occasion as a precaution. And though no wildlife were reported as being immediately affected, evidence of oil was found in local fish, proving how contaminated the river had become.

We Need to Reduce Our Dependence on Fossil Fuels

29357938502_a8f6d27110_k (Tony L)

Tony Webster/Flickr

Crude oil and its byproducts make their way into a variety of everyday items. In addition to the gasoline and oil that we put in our vehicles, rubber tires, plastic, candles, synthetic fibers, cosmetics, and body care products can contain petroleum or other oil-derived ingredients. We are far too dependent on oil and need to start looking at sustainable alternatives, as well as ways to divest from fossil fuels altogether. You can also help by participating in efforts that fight for change. Here are two easy to get started:

  • Get involved in protests and advocacy efforts, whether on a local or national level. One Green Planet has made it easier by providing a place for you to access petitions aimed at protecting animals and our environment.
  • Support the efforts of organizations like the Sierra Club that are working to take a stand against practices that harm the environment.

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