Party of Communists USA

February 27, 2023: Environmental Commission Statement on the Colonial Oil Pipeline Spill

Statement from the Environmental Commission of the Party of Communists USA

On August 14 of 2020, two teenagers on ATVs discovered in Oehler Nature Preserve outside of Huntersville, NC what would become the largest on-land oil spill in American history. Oehler Nature Preserve is home to the Carolina Darter, a species of fish that is considered to be a special concern within its region. This region is also environmentally significant as it is an important area for watershed protection.

The reckless pursuit of profit continues to plague the oil and gas industry, and Colonial Oil Industries is one of the many egregious offenders contributing to capitalist environmental catastrophes. This company has, for years, skimped on basic inspection measures that have repeatedly led to accidents that harm the environment. At 2 million gallons, the Huntersville pipeline spill has become the largest on-land oil spill in American history, surpassing the 1991 Line 3 Spill in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. It turns out that Colonial is a habitual offender in this arena; over the last 20 years, Colonial has been responsible for 272 spills in the US, including 32 in North Carolina alone! Colonial has also been responsible for at least 3 spills which the US Government found to be the result of gross negligence.

It is obvious that, in order to cut expenses and maintain profits, Colonial has shirked their responsibilities to the environment by not conducting proper inspections. In 2019, Colonial inspected just under 650 miles of the nearly 5,600 mile pipeline for cracks, and 909 miles for corrosion. In 2020 those numbers would rise, but to only 1,161 miles and 849 miles, respectively. Last year (following the discovery of the spill), Colonial boosted their corrosion inspections to 2,250 miles, while dropping their crack detections to 864 miles of coverage.
Crucially, Colonial admitted that since repairing a crack in the currently-leaking section in 2004, they had not inspected it since! We must ask ourselves how long it would have taken to find the leak if not for the two teenagers who discovered it while riding ATV’s through the area.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to see why companies such as Colonial, Enbridge, Energy Transfer Partners, and others continue to get away with these egregious crimes. These companies transfer tens of millions of dollars to Republican and Democratic political candidates every election cycle, typically through the use of Political Action Committees (PACs). These huge contributions obviously come with strings attached and create cozy relationships between oil companies and political candidates, making it difficult and unlikely for these politicians to pass legislation that would strengthen regulations on these companies. As a particularly relevant example of these cozy relationships, in March of 2021, Elliott Howard, who was a former aide to Joe Manchin and worked with Manchin on the US Senate Committee on Oil & Natural Resources, became a senior director at Jim Massie Partners, Colonial Pipeline’s longtime lobbying firm!

The use of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil have been crucial to the development of civilization. Since the beginning of the 2nd Industrial Revolution in 1870, the human population has grown from 1.4 billion to 8 billion! Additionally, the global life expectancy has more than doubled. However, with these benefits comes dangers as well.

When oil is spilled, it can leak into the water supply, posing a danger to humans and animals. Animals may ingest the oil which can cause organ damage and problems reproducing. Furthermore, oil that gets stuck on the feathers or fur of birds and mammals can interfere with the ability of these animals to stay warm. Oil spills are difficult and expensive to clean, often costing tens of millions of dollars. Despite best efforts from environmentalists and clean-up crews, oil will usually remain in the environment and cause problems for plants and animals for decades.

Protecting the integrity of our environment should be considered an essential task. There are 160,521 total miles of oil pipeline in the US. To inspect every mile of pipe on a yearly basis would take just 3,210 workers (at 1 worker per mile per week). It is estimated that there are currently 6 million unemployed workers in the USA! At a wage of $60k yearly, it would cost just $192,625,200 to employ these inspectors. Keep in mind that the oil and gas sector receives $472 billion of direct subsidies per year, in addition to $4.5 TRILLION of indirect subsidies in the form of tax breaks and financial assistance. Taking the appropriate preventative measures is not only a win for our environment, but for our labor force as well.

Oil and gas continue to be a crucial part of our energy mix, providing electricity and heat for billions of people worldwide, in addition to power for manufacturing and other industries. It is likely that they will continue to play this role for a long time, even as we develop our renewable energy sources. Procuring and transporting oil and gas comes with inherent dangers to the environment, dangers that our profit-centered energy companies have shown absolutely zero interest in mediating. The Environmental Commission of the Party of Communists USA promotes nationalization of these industries as a necessary goal, while also recognizing the importance of unionization (which increases democratic, community-centered control) in these industries, as well as doing everything possible to break the corrupt system of money in politics that makes it increasingly impossible to regulate these industries and protect our natural environment.

In Solidarity,
Environmental Commission
Party of Communists USA

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