This apparently happened on Monday but I’d yet to see it being reported by any major news outlet. BP has spilled 1,638 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan from the Whiting refinery in Northwest Indiana just across the border from Illinois. The initial projections were half that, 755 gallons. The spill was roughly 8 miles from a freshwater intake at 68th Street in Chicago. Lake Michigan is the primary source of fresh drinking water for the 7 million people living in Chicago and its suburbs. Luckily, the wind has driven the spill away from the freshwater intake and the Environmental Protection Agency currently judges that there is no direct threat to the city’s water supply. That’s the good news. Keep going, there is other, different, bad news.
I heard about this spill by accident and in checking the major network homepages only MSNBC even bothered to mention it on their front page. It climbs in at number 7 after an article about Ted Nugent.
Both CNN and Fox ignore the story completely on their homepages. CNN is still reporting on Malaysian Flight 370 despite the story having no new information and Fox’s headline was about how maybe someday we’ll be able to read one another’s thoughts. This is troublesome for the obvious reasons, this is a very real problem caused by a company, BP, that dumped 210 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It seems that this would be a story worth covering. Additionally Lake Michigan has been under threat from oil spills before and recently. In 2010, an oil pipeline carrying very heavy oil sands crude burst and dumped over 1 million gallons into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The Kalamazoo River also flows into Lake Michigan.
Thirty-five miles of the Kalamazoo River were closed for 2 years for cleanup. The oil did not flow into Lake Michigan but it did make it as far as Morrow Lake and a year after the spill they were still pulling massive amounts of heavy crude out of the Kalamazoo River and creating flotilla barriers around the mouth of Morrow Lake.
So, given that history, as well as the continuing debate about the Keystone XL pipeline, I would have thought the national news might have considered this newsworthy.
But it doesn’t stop there. There was also an oil spill in Texas this week where 170,000 gallons of crude were spilled into the Houston Ship Channel after a tanker collided with a barge. An investigation is ongoing.
About that investigation, there’s this interesting tidbit of information from CBS’s local reporting.
A critical report from the U.S. Office of Inspector General said in May 2013 that the Coast Guard didn’t have adequate processes to investigate marine accidents or take corrective actions. The report said a lack of dedicated Coast Guard resources, including “adequate training” in reporting accidents, had resulted in a backlog of more than 6,000 investigations.
Which means that there were possibly 6,000 spills during whatever period that covers. It’s unclear if that number refers to nationwide investigations or just in Texas.
It’s clearly bad all around. I know that no one thinks oil spills are a good thing even as we acknowledge that, yes, our economy runs on oil and we currently need it. We all know, abstractly at least, that we have to keep the stuff out of our water table and out of the environment generally. What does bother me is that none of the news sources I have cited in this article put the above pieces together into any kind of composite or larger story and even the composite here is just a small part of the story. Even here I’m having to conduct an information cut off but here’s a bit more of that larger story.
North Dakota’s experiencing a massive oil boom. They experienced hundreds of pipeline leaks and spills in 2013 alone. Also in 2013, 1.15 million gallons of oil were spilled from railway transport coming down from the Canadian tar sands, taking the stuff to refineries along the Gulf and elsewhere. That is more than the amount spilled over the previous 40 years combined. Now, that’s due to volume. The volume of oil coming from Canada, the tar sands, has increased incredibly and it will continue to. But, with the increase in the amount of spills we’re seeing and the inevitably of that oil’s continued transport the media needs to keep Americans informed about the big picture. Otherwise, everything seems like an isolated incident and there won’t appear to be a national problem. I’m sad to say that that’s what I believe most oil companies would prefer. It’s business, you know, nothing personal.