Oil Company Argues Oil Spills Are Good for the Economy

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Did you ever hear the story about a guy explaining the bright side of oil spills? You did not hear that story, because anyone who does that is a terrible person, and hopefully the human race collectively knows better, right? Wrong.

A Houston-based oil pipeline company recently made that very flawed argument in a written submission to Canada's National Energy Board. Kinder Morgan wants to triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which carries oil from Alberta to British Columbia, because of backlogged demand. The pipeline has a 300,000-barrel-a-day limit, and yet the company's demand exceeds that by about 70%, according to the National Post. Opponents of the expansion think increasing the amount of oil travelling through the pipeline will increase the likelihood of a spill.

Maybe that's why, buried deep in Kinder Morgan's 15,000 page submission to the NEB, the oil company argued oil spills "can have both positive and negative effects on local and regional economies," because of the economic benefits brought on by clean-up efforts. “Spill response and clean-up creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and clean-up service providers,” the report reads. Kinder Morgan does not forget to analyze the negative effects an oil spill has on local communities, like crippling fishing resources, threatening human health, and damaging property, which all carry an economic impact of their own.

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But Kinder Morgan still had the audacity to include the lines about positive effects a spill can have, and their opponents are tearing them apart over them. "It is an outrageous insult to British Columbians that Kinder Morgan would claim there are possible economic benefits from an oil spill,” Sierra Club British Columbia campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon said in a statement.

Local politicians are coming out against the report, too. “We know Kinder Morgan is using every trick in the book to push this pipeline through our community, but this takes the cake — proposing that a spill would actually be good for the local economy,” Kennedy Stewart, a federal politician who represents an area of British Columbia through which the pipeline passes, told the Vancouver Sun. “This assertion shows the utter disregard this company has for British Columbians.”

Kinder Morgan thinks everyone is blowing this out of proportion. “While we are required by the National Energy Board to explore both the positive and negative socio-economic effects of a spill, it in no way means we accept the inevitability of a spill, nor justify one,” senior director of marine development Michael Davies told 24 Hours Vancouver.

When arguing oil spills can have positive effects, the company cited this 24-year-old research paper on the economic impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The paper says there was a "severe labour shortage" after the Exxon Valdez spill because service industry workers took high-paying jobs related to the clean-up effort. Unfortunately, that paper also concludes the spill negatively impacted the majority of local businesses. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.