Every year since 1990 an average of 30 million gallons of oil has been spilled from wells, pipelines, and storage facilities.

The most spill-prone part of the industry’s infrastructure – its 155,000 miles of active pipeline – reaches every state. Corrosion most commonly causes spills from pipelines and from the 440,000 inland storage facilities that dot the landscape.

Since 1990 companies have been legally liable for damages and cleanup costs associated with their spills, though the government must often file suit to obtain full compliance. Last year the largest civil fine ever imposed for environmental violations was levied against a single company for damages from more than 300 spills.

Faced with corporate intransigence and runaway consumption, the government is concentrating on cleaner technologies to reduce the damage from spills. But that hasn’t been met with marked success – in a recent test by Alaska authorities, new-fangled safety shutoff valves had a 33 percent failure rate.

In 1998 and ’99, the oil released into the Gulf of Mexico accounted for three quarters of all U.S. marine spillage. The Gulf is also the site of the country’s third-largest marine spill: Five million gallons released by a tanker explosion in 1990. Another spill source is barges abandoned off the Louisiana coast, where, stripped of identification markers, they are pumped full of waste oil and left to corrode and sink.


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries