Mobile Baykeeper is a nonprofit environmental organization with over 4,000 members -- all with a common interest in preserving and protecting the beauty, health and heritage of the Mobile Bay Watershed. Our priorities are clean water, clean air and healthy communities and our motto is Naturally, We’re for Progress. Become a member today for the best possible tomorrow.Contribute
What’s so amazing about the job of being the Mobile Baykeeper and yet so completely challenging is how often we are faced with a new issue that our local community has never had to address. The latest is oil and gas pipelines and the transportation of differing types of crude oil. While crude oil is piped and transported across the nation on a regular basis, more and more accidents are occurring that require the community take a very close look at each project before simply signing off.
Our first step in any new project is research, so to begin to answer the question posed to us fairly regularly of late, we have to tease out the pieces. First off, there are two separate pipelines that will affect our community: Pipeline 1) GCAC’s Mobile River pipeline and Pipeline 2) Plains Southcap, LLC Mobile to Mississippi line. Both will be carrying crude oil, but only one – that we know – will carry tar sands crude oil. Click here to learn why tar sands is worrying communities across the United States and Canada.
Pipeline 1 – GCAC’s Mobile River pipeline:
We became aware of this proposal when Gulf Coast Asphalt Corporation (GCAC) approached us at the end of last year about their desire to transport toxic tar sands crude oil from Canada by rail to their facility. They came to us because they want to build a pipeline that will transport tar sands from the rail yard in downtown Mobile to a storage facility on the Eastern side of the Mobile River. To do this, the pipeline will have to go under Mobile River. As we understand, GCAC will bring in the toxic tar sands in specially made rail cars that have an external heating core. Once they arrive at the facility, they pump steam into external heater coils, making the tar sands more viscous and therefore easier to transport. Tar sands crude is so thick it doesn’t easily flow through a pipeline, so it must either have chemicals added to it or be heated in order to flow through the pipe.
GCAC plans to then put the tar sands on barges to be shipped from Mobile. We now understand that the Chevron refinery in Pascagoula doesn’t process this type of oil. In fact, there are only a select few refineries in the southeast that process tar sands.
Pipeline 2 - Plains Southcap, LLC Mobile to Mississippi line
The second pipeline we all missed. There apparently was a tiny advertisement in the Press Register’s public notices section for a public hearing in Montgomery to discuss whether or not this pipeline would be approved. This ad never mentioned a location, and it didn’t include a map of the area the proposed pipeline would impact. Worst of all, there were no public hearings held anywhere except Montgomery, meaning those of us who live and work in Mobile County had no chance to voice concerns or ask questions about this plan. Apparently the Public Service Commission in Montgomery seems to think that a safe and accessible drinking water supply is not an important asset to economic development, so they approved a pipeline to carry crude oil through the Big Creek Lake watershed.
The Mobile Area Water & Sewer Service (MAWSS) and the Mobile County Commission are heavily engaged in working to move the pipeline out of the Big Creek Lake watershed, and the City of Semmes has produced a “stop work” order, halting construction of the pipe in that area. We have great allies fighting to protect our very important drinking water source.
Why is any of this important? What was so often said during the BP Oil Disaster of 2010 was how lucky we were that the more than 200 million gallons of oil gushing out of the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico was considered light, sweet crude. That means it is less toxic, floats to the surface and contains fewer heavy metals, and that most of the toxins contained will naturally be released to the environment when it is exposed to open air. We beg to disagree on our “luck,” but we understand the sentiment.
Heavier crudes do not do this – they sink in water, stick to everything and have to be excavated for removal if the accidental release doesn’t result in a major fire/explosion. A quick search for pipeline breaks or crude oil spills will show a terrible history of severe problems that have long-term impacts on communities when extreme care is not taken or there is simply an accident.
Mobile Baykeeper stands ready to fight to move the pipeline out of our drinking water at a minimum, but also feels strongly that additional protections must be put in place as our communities grow and our energy needs grow along with them. We will continue to research and work on the pipeline issue and update you regularly on our progress.
Casi (kc) Callaway
Executive Director & Baykeeper