As the Nebraska Legislature considers demanding a $500 million bond from TransCanada to secure funding for cleaning up the inevitable Keystone XL pipeline spills, Mr. Kurtz brings to my attention the price tag for cleaning up the Exxon Silvertip oil spill in the Yellowstone River this summer: $135 million dollars.

Let's do some math:

  • Amount spilled from Silvertip: 1,000 barrels.
  • Clean-up cost per barrel: $135,000.
  • Diameter of Silvertip pipeline: 12 inches.
  • Diameter of proposed Keystone XL pipeline: 36 inches.
  • Ratio of potential Keystone XL volume to Silvertip's: 9:1
  • Amount comparable river-crossing accident on Keystone XL might spill: 9,000 barrels.
  • Clean-up cost for comparable river-crossing clean-up: $1.215 billion.
  • Cap on environmental compensation fun included in most recent South Dakota pipeline tax proposal: $30 million.
  • Amount of Silvertip-comparable Keystone XL clean-up such a fund would cover: 2.5%, or 222 barrels.
  • Time it took Exxon to seal the ruptured Silvertip line: 56 minutes.
  • Flow capacity of Keystone XL: 900,000 barrels per day = 625 barrels per minute.
  • Maximum amount Keystone XL could spill in 56 minutes: 35,000 barrels.
  • Silvertip-comparable cost to clean up spill that size: $4.7 billion.

Uff da: Nebraska Senator Bill Avery from Lincoln is right when he says TransCanada's offer of a $100-million clean-up bond is "woefully inadequate." But by the above math, so is Avery's bill for a $500-million bond. Think bigger, Nebraska!

Related: Speaking of funny math, when TransCanada says Keystone XL will create lots of jobs, it is counting work already done and over thanks to steel pipe it has already bought and stockpiled from Russian and Indian steel companies. TransCanada is also counting dancers, choreographers, and speech therapists connected with the pipeline. TransCanada does not count the jobs lost through health impacts or increased gasoline prices. Unclear is whether TransCanada includes estimates of jobs created for oil spill cleanup crews.


State Senator Russell Olson thinks having more big oil pipelines running through our fair state is just great. Those oil companies pay lots of property tax and buy lots of electricity, don't ya know?

Maybe Russ would like to spend the Fourth of July along the Yellowstone River in Montana. He and the kids could come home stinking of oil and "ringed with brown slurry," thanks to a ruptured Exxon pipeline that has polluted at least 150 miles of waterway between Laurel and Miles City:

ExxonMobil spokeswoman Pam Malek said the pipe leaked an estimated 750 to 1,000 barrels of oil for about a half-hour before it was shut down. Other Exxon officials estimated as much as 42,000 gallons of crude oil escaped.

The oil slick started just east of the Laurel Bridge late Friday night and by 9 a.m. Saturday had reached Worden. By about 3 p.m. it had reached the Myers Bridge in Hysham. The pipe itself connects Exxon's Silvertip Line — which brings crude from the oilfields in northern Wyoming — to the Billings refinery [Rob Rogers and Susan Olp, "Ruptured Pipeline Sends Oil Coursing down the Yellowtone River," Billings Gazette, 2011.07.02].

From the time crews spotted oil on the river, it took Exxon half an hour to shut down the pipeline. County officials and state troopers rousted people out of bed to notify them and encourage them to evacuate. Increased tax revenue doesn't inspire me much when I can't get a good night's sleep.

Glenn Wells, who lives in the River Grove Estates near Mullowney Lane, said he was asked to leave his home by a Montana Highway Patrol trooper at 2:30 a.m. Wells, his wife and a friend went to the Red Cross center as it was being set up. Three families were at the center, he said.

"I still smell like oil," he said. "My whole house smells like diesel fuel. It was everywhere on the river -- an oil slick on Billings' West End."

A 600-foot-long black smear of oil coated Jim Swanson's riverfront property just downstream from where the pipe broke.

"Whosever pipeline it is better be knocking on my door soon and explaining how they're going to clean it up," Swanson said as globules of oil bubbled to the surface of the river. "They say they've got it capped off. I'm not so sure" [Rogers and Olp, 2011.07.02].

The Exxon pipeline is 12 inches in diameter. TransCanada's Keystone pipeline is 36 inches in diameter and pumps can pump 11,000 barrels of oil every half hour across the Missouri River at Yankton (that is, if TransCanada can ever get its pumping stations to stop leaking long enough to run the pipeline at full capacity). The planned Keystone XL pipeline will pump nearly 19,000 barrels every half hour across the Cheyenne, Bad, and White Rivers in our western South Dakota watershed.

Senator Olson likes to accentuate the positive. He needs me, and Exxon on the Yellowstone, to remind him that there are serious negatives to the slavish dependence on fossil fuels that his big-business-biased rhetoric supports.


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