Pipeline Busts and the Laissez-Faire Environmental Protection Provided by the EIA Process

arkansas oil spill

Photo taken in the wake of the pipeline leak in Mayflower, Arkansas, 2013

Environmental emergency crises requiring swift containment and recovery actions have become synonymous with the oil and gas industry, because of their history of spills. There are countless examples where monitoring checks were called into question, such as the the spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, or the Lac-Mégantic tragic train derailment, or  the seepage into the Yellowstone River or the diesel spill that affected Longeuil, and bigger disasters, with widespread damage to massive systems like the BP Deepwater Horizon spill or the continual damage to the Nigerian Delta. These are but a few examples out of hundreds.

oilinfographics

The amount of these calamities show they are more than simple coincidence and are indicative of a more serious issue within the industry of environmental protection during the post development stages, during operations and the dismantling of a project. This is not restricted to the oil and gas industry. In the early stages of development, the process of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) helps to guide a project to environmental responsibility. However it has been widely documented by EIA experts that the later stages of the process have fallen by the wayside. The rigidity of checks and standards during the early EIA stages become more relaxed as regular operations begin and responsibility falls on the proponent of the original project.[i] [ii] Recognizing this need for better industry monitoring practices, many critical studies have looked into its improvements and have suggested numerous possibilities.[iii] [iv] [v] The dilemma of the monitoring phase is the lack of commitment on the proponent’s part to responsible monitoring programs. Reactive measures prevail. This is opposite to the rest of the EIA process, which is geared towards prevention.

bpoilspill infographicThe misstep of EIA is that there is a “build it and forget about it syndrome” (Noble, 2010), which has allowed many corporations to profit in spite of disastrous events, by arguing the extent of the damage and paying less fines, as well as getting away with less than required remedial processes again and again. Tighter regulations and standards need to be adopted during the monitoring and follow-up stages in order to prevent these types of disasters from happening. Transparency within the project’s operations is also vital in maintaining an environmentally safe project. Greater involvement of citizens in the immediate area of the project can also have a beneficial relationship between corporation and community, promoting a greater corporate social responsibility and a mutual trust,[vi] though such programs still hinge on the effort of the proponent and their commitment to preventing environmental damage, and providing proper clean up if such issues do occur.[vii]

EIA as a whole needs to be refocused to the entire life-cycle of a project, not only the beginning stages, otherwise it fails its main prerogative of environmentally protective development, and mitigating serious ecological disasters.

[i] Noble, B. (2010). Introduction to Environmental Impact ASsessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice (2nd ed.). Ontario, CA: Oxford University Press. p. 160.

[ii] Weston, J. (1997). Planning and Environmental Impact Assessment in Practice (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. p. 141-142.

[iii] Hunsberger, C. A., Gibson, R. B., & Wismer, S. K. (2005). Citizen Involvement in Sustainability-Centered Environmental Assessment Follow-Up. Environmental Impact Assessment, Review 25. p. 609-627.

[iv] Arts, J., Marshall, R., & Morrison-Saunders, A. (2005). International Principles for Best Practice EIA Follow-Up. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 23:3. p. 175-181.

[v] Marshall, R. (2012). Environmental Impact Assessment Follow-Up and its Benefits for Industry. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 23:3. p. 191-196.

[vi]  Lawe, L. B., Wells, J. & Mikisew Cree First Nations Industry Relations Corporation (2005). Cumulative Effects Assessment and EIA Follow-Up: A Proposed Community-Based Monitoring Program in the Oil Sands Region, North Eastern Alberta. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 23:3. p. 205-209.

[vii] Birk, J. & Noble, B. (2011). Comfort Monitoring? Environmental Assessment Follow-Up Under Community-Industry Negotiated Environmental Agreements. Environmental Impact Assessment, Review 31. p. 17-24.