On October 13th Sunoco Logistics’ Mid-Valley pipeline leaked at least 4,000 barrels of crude oil into Tete Bayou, a tributary that feeds Caddo Lake. For the last two weeks Sunoco has maintained that no oil has reached the lake itself, claiming that the spill was fully contained within the tributary. The EPA is also covering for Sunoco, insisting no oil has reached Caddo Lake, which is a major source of drinking water for thousands. Surprise! Sunoco and the EPA are wrong. Again.
“We’ve had reconnaissance on the spill pathway by foot, by boat and by air,” Bill Rhotenberry, area EPA investigator, said. “The oil has not reached the lake. The oil is approximately four tenths to five tenths of a mile upstream.”
It is almost always the case that whenever oil spills the corporation responsible lies about the harmful impacts and unfortunately our regulators often do very little to shine a light on the realities of the damage. The Caddo Lake spill is no exception. When Tar Sands Blockade heard the claim that “no oil had reached the lake,” we found that very hard to believe. We sent a small team to check it out for ourselves and as you can see, oil has very clearly reached the lake itself.
The amount of oil that has reached Caddo Lake is hard for us to estimate, suffice it to say it’s enough to burn the nostrils and cause headaches. The stench was overwhelming at times, and the oil thick enough to coat the sides of our canoe.
It needs to be said that Sunoco and the EPA must be aware of this fact and both seem to be intentionally misleading the public. This overhead photo of where Tete Bayou meets Caddo Lake shows containment booms across most of bayou inlet; however, the booms DO NOT completely encircle the mouth of Tete Bayou and oil is freely flowing around them. Close up photos of the cloth booms reveal that some oil is being captured in the lake itself, yet nowhere in any news reports has this information been made public.
The Mid-Valley pipeline has spilled 40 times in the last 8 years. The law firm helping impacted residents reports that, “Property damages caused by these spills and leaks total at least $7.5 million. In 2000, 63,000 gallons of oil spilled into Campit Lake in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, due to pipeline corrosion. About 260,000 gallons spilled into the Kentucky River due to a rupture caused by girth weld failure in a pipe laid in 1950. Construction crews struck the pipeline in Burlington, Kentucky, causing 115,000 gallons to spill, 80 homes to be evacuated, and oil contaminating the sanitary sewer system and a creek. Approximately 20,000 gallons leaked into a nature reserve near Cincinnati in March, 2014 through a bottom-side dent that contained a five-inch through-wall crack in the pipeline. The spill was only discovered when public complaints came in about the odor. Remediation efforts are still underway over seven months later.”
To add insult to injury, federal pipeline regulators (PHMSA) have already given the green light for Sunoco to restart the Mid-Valley pipeline despite an admission by Sunoco spokesman Jeffrey P. Shields that “The cause of the failure is undetermined.” The Mid-Valley pipeline is 65 years old! Evidently it is not fit for operation, since over the span of the last eight years it has spilled an average of once every 10 weeks. Nonetheless, PHMSA can find no reason to prevent Sunoco from resuming regular operations. The pipeline delivers crude oil from Longview, Texas to Midwestern refineries and terminates near Detroit.
Sunoco now claims that it has recovered over 3000 out of the roughly 4000 barrels that spilled, yet it also admits that is does not know exactly how many barrels spilled, it can only estimate. So far over 400 dead animals have been found by work crews, and by all accounts there is still a lot of area where remediation has not yet even started. In the area we investigated, the lack of marine life was noticeable. We spent hours in the bayou and never saw so much as a frog. The water surface, usually dancing with insects, was devoid of life.