Pipelines and where we draw the line

by Ysabella Alcazar & Jon Bonifacio

“The ocean is on fire.”

Was it a joke? Was it just good CGI footage taken out of a disaster movie? No. The ocean was literally on fire because of a ruptured pipeline. Once again, the planet itself has cried out for system change.

Last July 3, 2021, the Gulf of Mexico burst into flames, creating a ring of fire on its surface for five hours due to a ruptured gas pipeline. The video of the incident circulated online and all over the world, viewers were appalled at how it was really happening in real life and how this was not taken out of a sci-fi movie. Some may see it as just another crazy story from 2021, but there’s more to it than that.

The incident — hardly the first environmental disaster brought about by a pipeline — showed how these projects can pose a threat to life and humanity. Oil and gas pipelines make way for the profit-hungry and power-hungry schemes of fossil fuel corporations, and adversely affect the integrity and safety of our land, water, and air.

Two of the most serious types of pipeline incidents include leaks and ruptures, which both impose catastrophic impacts on the environment. And now, these pipeline ruptures that used to be a cautionary tale have come true to life. Over the past decade, pipelines have spilled more than 34 million gallons of oil in the United States alone. Since the 1980s, it has been reported that the pipeline and the oil industry has caused more than 8 billion US dollars worth of financial damages. The human cost, on the other hand, has also been immense: over 500 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries were caused by pipeline accidents in the same time period. Both of these statistics, again, only in the United States; we can only expect a worse situation globally.

One of the worst pipeline accidents ever recorded happened just a few years ago, last December 2016, in western North Dakota where it was estimated that 176,000 gallons of oil leaked in the Belle Fourche pipeline.

During this time, the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline was also taking place. Local residents had opposed the construction of the pipeline given the threat of environmental damage in their community. Moreover, the corporation responsible for the Dakota Access pipeline silenced those who oppose their unethical and dangerous project by filing legal cases against the indigenous and environmental groups resisting the construction. Additionally, a petition by local indigenous communities to shut the Dakota Access pipeline down permanently was denied by US courts earlier this year.

Pemex, the oil company involved in the July 3 incident in the Gulf of Mexico, has stated that, to quote, “there was no oil spill and the immediate actions to control the fire that occurred on the surface of the sea avoided environmental damage.” 

But is that enough? Assurance from a multi-billion dollar oil company that everything is under control with a single article, after seeing the ocean set aflame, will not cut it. It’s also worth noting that Pemex has had several industrial accidents in the past. The pressure must continue for an independent investigation in order to hold the company accountable for the environmental impacts the incident has undoubtedly caused. 

And of course, as the world faces the threats imposed by the current climate crisis, the continued construction of pipelines worldwide just shows how fossil fuel companies are stubbornly holding on to dirty energy. A notable example is the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) being built by Total Energies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation in Uganda and Tanzania. The massive project spanning hundreds of kilometers poses a threat to the environment, food security, and water security, and threatens to displace more than 10,000 families. The call to defund the project, led by the Stop EACOP alliance, is still ongoing.

Another example would be the Keystone XL pipeline project in North America, which received significant opposition from indigenous peoples and environmental groups. Fortunately, due to the immense pressure from civil society, the permit for the pipeline was revoked earlier this year and the project was subsequently cancelled.

With all this in mind, Filipinos must also similarly oppose new pipeline projects here in our own country, as they would invariably damage local ecosystems, place people’s lives and livelihoods at risk, and commit the country to dirty energy for decades to come. Instead, we must call for a shift towards renewable, sustainable, and more decentralized energy production, which has rapidly become more accessible and affordable in recent years. Moreover, if we wish to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature increase limit stated in the Paris Agreement, building new oil and gas infrastructure today is not an option. 

We call out the massive pipeline projects and the corporations who damage our biodiversity, devastate peoples around the world, and actively prevent the necessary global shift to cleaner, more sustainable energy. We must resist and call to defund these types of projects in order to break the dependence on fossil fuels. We must put pressure on those in power to make more responsible choices, call for urgent climate action, and initiate a change in the system into one that places people and planet over profit.

Photo from Twitter

This article is part of the Spotlight series by YACAP’s Education Committee which talks about various issues related to climate and climate action.

Published by yacaphilippines

Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines is an alliance of individuals, youth organizations, and student councils that advocate for immediate youth-led global climate action. The Fridays for Future of the Philippines.

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