Two recent accidents in the resource extraction industry show conclusively that no matter what preventative measures are in place, two things are guarantees: First, accidents happen. Second, it is the ecosystems and communities downstream that suffer.
The Nexen pipeline breach of a few weeks ago, documented here, happened despite state-of-the-art pipeline monitoring systems being installed. The monitoring systems apparently malfunctioned, and the spill was only noticed when someone walked by to see five million litres of bitumen soaking into fragile muskeg, which could have been up to two weeks after the pipeline started leaking.
More recently, 3 million gallons (~11.4 million litres) of toxic wastewater full of dangerous heavy metals spilled into Colorado’s Animas River from a former mine site. Ironically, this spill was unrelated to mining operations – the accident happened when the federal Environmental Protection Agency was working to remove and treat the toxic waste. Despite good intentions, the accident occurred and caused widespread and serious damage to ecological and community health through two river systems, three states, and multiple communities that depend on the river. This CNN article summarizes the effects of the spill and the numbers are simply staggering.
How should events like these shape industry discourse? Does every potential accident need to happen before we work to prevent its reoccurrence? What will proactive prevention look like as we work toward new relationships between the future of industry and vulnerable communities downstream?
Chris Klassen is the Communications Coordinator for the One River, Many Relations documentary project and contributes content to One River News as a part of that work. He studied International Development and Communications at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, MB and is happy to be contributing to the work of building future relationships between land, people, and industry.