Friday, August 20, 2010

Tipsheet has help for covering oil pipeline spills

The million gallons of oil spilled into Michigan watersheds, including the Kalamazoo River, from a Enbridge Energy Partners pipeline last month, showed how dangerous oil pipelines spills can be, and such spills might be more common than you think. Environmental Protection Agency data shows "tens of thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines crisscross the U.S., and they spilled more than 2 million gallons of oil in 2009 alone," the Society of Environmental Journalists reports. These pipelines tend to run through rural areas, making SEJ's tipsheet for covering pipeline threats of particular value to rural journalists.

"For the Enbridge spill in Michigan, there was extensive evidence of looming problems," SEJ reports, adding that finding evidence that there were problems before a spill is difficult, but key in coverage of such events. The Associated Press reported shortly after the spill that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration met with Enbridge officials in February regarding problems with corrosion monitoring and other issues in this pipeline. Since May the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials has held four hearings about pipeline risks. Minutes from each of those hearings (May 20, June 29, July 15 and July 21) can provide valuable information for journalists.

Following the 2001 terrorist attacks, much of the information about pipeline locations on government websites was taken offline, leading many journalists to say that reporting on pipelines was nearly impossible, but there are several resources that can be useful in tracking down pipeline information, SEJ reports: County-level maps, which may not include all pipelines and are valid as of 2007, are available from PHMSA. Searching EPA's Enforcement and Compliance History Online database can help journalists "get a feel for where pipelines are located and whether they have had any past officially-acknowledged problems," SEJ says. The Pipeline Risk Management Information System contains data where "various companies acknowledge certain pipelines or related facilities known to have problems, and outline their proposed plans of action to remedy the problems." (Read more)

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