As we approach the two year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill and as the war on the Keystone XL pipeline wages on, we are reminded of the actual and potential damage of chemical spills.
The question is: How frequent are chemical spills? These two scenarios, Deepwater and Keystone XL, represent two extremes—the worst-case scenario and a hypothetical. To provide some middle ground perspective, I’d like to share with you data from a study conducted in Southern Ontario.
Yes. I am aware Ontario is in Canada (though I have never visited our neighbor to the north). So yes, it’s not perfectly applicable to the U.S.; however, it is still a notable longitudinal study that paints a realistic (and by that I mean not driven by the media) picture about chemical spills, particularly in energy-intensive regions. Really, it’s not like Canada is the Galapagos Islands.
Researchers in Ontario collected data on spills covering the period 1988 to 2007. What they found might shock you a bit. Over this time period:
- A total of 14,174 chemical spills occurred. This averages out to 709 spills a year or 2 spills each day.
- Spills most frequently resulted from: (1) Pipe/hose leaks; (2) Fuel tank/barrel leaks; (3) Process set up; and (4) Discharge/bypass to water course.
- The sector most responsible for spills was the industrial sector (44.9%). Within the industrial sector, the biggest contributors were (in order): metallurgy, chemical, and general manufacturing.
- These spills have a wide range of environmental impacts, including surface water contamination, soil contamination, air pollution, and multi-media contamination.
These stats paint a good picture about the nature of spills, especially those that aren’t making headlines in the news (like Deepwater). What is most frightening is to learn that of these spills, only 10 percent were cleaned up entirely. Perhaps this is because most large cities in Canada do not have a spill management plan. So whether it’s no plan or an outdated plan, seems like there needs to be some plan action going on in the world of chemicals spills—unless of course we want to enjoy ourselves a good dose of cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene.