Southern communities brace for the impact of Big Oil's expansion plans
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade and DisasterMap.net recently released their latest tally of petrochemical accidents in the state. During the first two weeks of February alone, the environmental group documented 78 such accidents, including 14 on offshore drilling platforms in Louisiana waters. One of the accidents killed a pipeline worker, while another released cancer-causing benzene into the St. James community. (There was another reported spill in St. James last week, when a storage tank owned by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline released over 12,500 gallons of crude oil, with an unknown amount flowing out of the containment and into a ditch.)
The Bucket Brigade's report serves as a reminder of the industry's long record of safety problems. For example, oil and gas extraction workers have an on-the-job fatality rate seven times greater than the rate for all U.S. industries.
The fence-line communities most directly affected by the industry's pollution and accidents are rarely white and wealthy — and now it's even less likely that they will be get help from federal regulators to help them deal with state regulatory agencies influenced by the industry's outsized political power (almost $85 million in total contributions in 2016 alone, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics' FollowTheMoney.org database).
That's because the Trump administration has proposed $2 billion in cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency — and shuttering its environmental justice office altogether.
"We see these consistently high numbers of accidents in the oil and gas industry on one hand and a plan to systematically dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency on the other hand," said Renate Heurich of the environmental advocacy group 350 Louisiana. "Given these conditions, we can predict that even more people will lose their health or their lives as a direct consequence."
Source: Written by Sue Sturgis, the editorial director of Facing South and the Institute for Southern Studies. www.facingsouth.org