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In the last 12 years, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, who manage one of the largest petroleum pipeline networks in the U.S., has had 61 incidents, 12 of which have been in Indiana, including recent spill of 42,000 gallons of diesel. In the same week they had to pay fine of $300 thousand for spill last year but Sierra Club’s Jodi Perras says that’s ‘a drop in the bucket’ for the company which made a profit of $330 million last year.

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DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for the Real News from Montreal, Canada.

The transportation of oil via pipelines is encountering increasing resistance across North America. In what has been dubbed the Standing Rock of the North, indigenous Canadians, environmentalists, and ordinary citizens are battling the massive expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in Western Canada. Trans Mountain carries toxic tar sands bitumen from Alberta to British Columbia’s Pacific Coast. Meanwhile, south of the border, many battles are raging as well. The Dakota Access Pipeline, the Nebraska arm of the Keystone XL, and the construction in Virginia and West Virginia of two proposed natural gas pipelines are all encountering strong resistance. In Virginia some protesters have spent 30 days positioned up in trees in the construction area of the pipeline.

A new pipeline spill in Indiana confirms that the fears of pipeline resisters are well founded. In the Indiana spill approximately 1000 barrels, or 42000 gallons, of diesel fuel entered Big Creek, which feeds into the Wabash River. The company responsible, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, manages one of the largest petroleum pipeline networks in the United States, based on total volume delivered. A few days after the disclosure of the recent spill, the Environmental Protection Agency and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency announced an agreement with Marathon Pipeline to resolve a Clean Water Act violation stemming from its 2016 spill into the Wabash River, with civil penalties amounting to 335000 dollars.

With us to discuss the recent spill and Marathon’s track record, we are pleased to be joined by Jodi Perras. Jodi manages Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio. Thanks for joining us today, Jodi.

JODI PERRAS: Thanks, Dimitri. It’s great to be here.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So please talk, to begin, about this recent spill, Jodi. The 42000 gallons of diesel. Is this quantity of diesel liable to have a significant adverse impact on the local environment?

JODI PERRAS: Well, I certainly think so, since it was spilled into a small creek that then goes into the Wabash River. It looks like from the photos I’ve seen that they were able to contain it in the creek, but you know, you can see the diesel fuel that’s, you know, in the water and coming in contact with the banks. There are certainly fish and aquatic life that live in there, so yeah, we’re concerned about what’s happened, what the effect would be on local creek there.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And what if anything do we currently know about the cause of the spill?

JODI PERRAS: I don’t think we know a lot. I saw a news report that Marathon was equating, you know, was attributing it to an act of God, or natural forces. No God that I believe in decides to spill, you know, diesel fuel into a creek. I think that, you know, we have to look at is Marathon doing a good enough job of maintaining these pipelines?

And I think it’s important to point out that during the last 12 years marathon pipeline has had 61 pipeline incidents across the country. And of those 12 were in Indiana. So about one every year in Indiana is happening from Marathon pipeline. And they’re they’re not getting the kind of attention they need to stop doing this.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So this brings us, of course, to the question of enforcement. And I mentioned at the outset there was a 335000 dollar settlement or penalty imposed pursuant to a settlement with the federal and state Environmental Protection Agency. And that related to the 2016 spill into the Wabash river. Was that an adequate penalty enforcement track record of penalty, in your opinion? How do you assess the enforcement track record of the local and federal Environmental Protection Agencies when it comes to pipeline spills?

JODI PERRAS: Yeah, absolutely not. When you look at Marathon as a company it’s a 13.8 billion dollar company. I saw one news report forecasting that they will expect to have a 330 million dollar profit this year. And so they are paying 335000 dollars for that spill in 2016. That’s pennies to a company like that.

I’m also concerned that, while the fine included a fine from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, our agency here in Indiana the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, decided that there was no fine that Marathon needed to pay. And so that’s not adequate at all. They just decided to let Marathon go with no penalty at all.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now, the industry justifies the use of pipelines by citing the so-called bomb train accidents that have occurred in the carriage of oil by train. And they of course insist that pipelines are a safer option. How do you respond to that argument?

JODI PERRAS: I think from Sierra Club’s standpoint all of these fuels are dirty and they’re dangerous. So what we really need to do is as quickly as possible we need to get ourselves off of dirty fuels like oil and coal and diesel and gas, and move into alternatives. So you know, they can say that pipelines are safer. I don’t know if they are or not. But there’s nothing that’s really safe about these fuels when you consider what they do to our environment, when you consider what it takes to get them out of the ground and the damage that that causes to people’s lives as well as to the environment, and the damage it causes when we burn them, the health, the health effects, the effects on our, you know, our communities and our climate.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: We’ve been speaking to Jodi Perras of the Sierra Club about a new diesel fuel spill in Indiana. Thank you very much for talking to us today about this incident, Jodi.

JODI PERRAS: Thanks, Dimitri. It’s my pleasure to be here with you.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for the Real News from Montreal, Canada.

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Jodi Perras

Jodi Perras manages Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. She leads a team of staff, volunteers and allied organizations who are working to retire coal-fired power plants, block fracked gas plants and transition to clean energy in this fossil fuel-heavy region.