Geyser of gasoline at an illegal pipeline tap. Geyser of gasoline at an illegal pipeline tap.

Long recovery from spills at pipeline taps

Financial cost is one thing but the environmental cost is another

The financial cost of theft from petroleum pipelines and the risk to the public they pose have been well publicized. But not so well broadcast is the long-lasting environmental damage they can represent.

Land polluted by a pipeline tap gone wrong and left unattended can take years to recover, said an environmental specialist this week.

“Hydrocarbon spills impregnate the soil and can seriously affect surrounding wildlife,” warned Ever Chávez Ornelas, a professor at the Autonomous University of León.

“Another problem,” he continued, “is the emission of volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, even if there’s no fire.” If the fuel ignites, the noxious effects are even worse.

If authorities take too long to intervene at the scene of a spill and rain begins to fall the pollution can reach underground aquifers, he said.

Chávez believes that the use of sophisticated technology is required to avoid such scenarios, and it is something that the state already has.

A representative of the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa) concurred with Chávez, remarking that a fuel spill on farmland could have “great and irreversible effects on the subsoil and the aquifers . . . .”

Underground water reservoirs polluted by fuels are regarded as serious enough that the National Security, Energy and Environment Agency (ASEA) takes over from Profepa and the National Water Commission (Conagua).

A Conagua representative in Guanajuato told Milenio that the pollution of aquifers is a common event, particularly in the city of Irapuato, where two cases of contamination by gasoline were reported over a period of 18 months.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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