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May 02, 2013

Small or Large, Communities Nationwide Face Fallout of Dirty Fuel Production


This past weekend, the oil and gas industry proved again that it cannot be trusted when it comes to protecting the people who live near their dirty fuel production facilities and pipelines. Two incidents -- one in Detroit, Michigan, and another in Bradford, Pennsylvania -- disrupted the lives of families in both areas, showing that communities large and small can face the dangerous consequences of fossil-fuel production.

In southwest Detroit, an explosion at the Marathon refinery caused plumes of smoke to fill the city air. In the small town of Bradford, an Atlas Energy pipeline leaked oil and gas onto a busy road in northwestern Pennsylvania.

The Sierra Club and allied environmental justice advocates have voiced their opposition to the expansion of the Marathon refinery for years -- and the latest incident there is further evidence that their warnings should have been heeded. According to the Detroit Free Press, residents had to be evacuated from their homes after the fire on Saturday evening, and the blast exposed residents to toxic chemicals and carcinogens that public health advocates had feared could contaminate the city's air and water.

In the small college town of Bradford, the setting for a dirty fuel disaster was different, but the dangers were the same. A dangerous mix of crude oil and natural gas shot out of a fossil fuel pipeline 60 feet into the air. The Bradford Era reported that a traveler along Route 219 spotted the gushing pipeline and reported it to authorities.  Emergency responders closed the slippery, oil- and natural gas-covered road while workers fought to contain the spill. The road was closed for five hours, and cleanup continues today.

Environmental studies professor Stephen Robar of the University of Pittsburgh–Bradford referred to the spill as not an accident, but an inevitability.  

"It will happen again, and again, as the record already indicates," said Professor Robar. "The state of Pennsylvania has a responsibility to do as much as it can to minimize such inevitabilities through rigorous oversight."

The two incidents are just the latest in a string of similar fossil fuel disasters across the country this year, including the tar sands pipeline rupture that dumped thousands of gallons of toxic crude in the suburban community of Mayflower, Arkansas. Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies continue to push for more dangerous drilling in places like our pristine Arctic and for more dirty fuel infrastructure across the country -- including the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

However, as more communities suffer from increasingly common incidents like those in Detroit, Bradford, and Arkansas, more voices are speaking out to say that enough is enough and urging their lawmakers to pursue clean energy solutions. After all, the worst consequence of a solar energy spill is a sunny day.

--Kristen Elmore, Sierra Club Media Team Intern


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