Earthquakes Versus Pipelines: Are we ready for an oil spill in the Fraser River?

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has made it a condition of her support for heavy oil exports that project proponents and federal agencies ensure “world-leading” marine and land-based spill prevention, response and recovery. What would those systems look like in an active earthquake zone?

A new seismology study published Monday carries direct implications for pipeline construction in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. Twenty years after a serious oil spill blackened the Santa Clara River in California, the report invites reflection on what “world-leading” protection would cost along the Fraser River, and what it could require of engineers.

On Jan. 17, 1994, the Northridge earthquake struck the San Fernando Valley in southern California. The shaking began at 4:31 in the morning. Freeways and apartment buildings collapsed, killing 57 people and injuring thousands. Buried out of sight, an old pipeline operated by the Atlantic Richfield Company tore apart at the seams. Welds failed at nine different points along a 56km stretch, including at a pumping station on the banks of the Santa Clara.

Coast Guard commander Thomas Leveille reports what happened next: “The oil flowed across the parking lot, into a storm drain, then into a drainage ditch to the Santa Clara River.” In total, 190,000 gallons poured into the wide, shallow waterway, which was running that night at about gumboot depth. ARCO workers discovered the spill at 5:35 AM, alerting government officials two hours later. As ambulances raced to help victims of the earthquake, cleanup crews scrambled downriver to stop the flow of oil.

(CLICK HERE to continue reading at TheTyee.ca)

Santa Clara river spill

Oil from the ruptured ARCO pipeline swept down 25km of the Santa Clara river.

 

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2 comments
  1. Eileen Kosior said:

    Thanks for your ongoing posts, Kai!! eileen

  2. Limits To Complexification ?
    As we ‘develop’ more and more of our natural world, and as our population/consumption pressure intensifies, I anticipate an impending limit to the complexification that we as a spices can manage. Pipelines and earthquakes are a good example of this sort of crisis potential area. Good piece Mr. Nagata. Adam Heart

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