The recent Keystone Pipeline spills in North Dakota, which leaked an estimated 383,040 gallons of oil, continues to surprise with the scope of its environmental impact. Initial reports, which had placed the affected area at 2,500 square yards, have turn out to be a severe underestimation, with recent reports from CNN indicating that the affected area is nearly 10 times that size.
With the spill (the cause of which is still unknown) now affecting around 23,232 square yards of land, criticism of large oil pipelines is at an all-time high. Leaks are not one-off failures, even with technologically advanced pipelines like Keystone. In this pipeline’s case, its history of accidents and containment failures have birthed significant controversy, with the most recent incident taking place in 2017 and involving a leakage of 210,000 gallons of oil.
The environment stands to suffer even more due to the nature of the oil transported by the Keystone Pipeline — “it is thicker and sticker than traditional oil, requiring it to be combined with hazardous materials to transfer it through the pipeline and making it more difficult to clean up.” Joye Braun, a community organiser with the Indigenous Environmental Network, commented on the volatile nature of pipeline construction, “It has never been if a pipeline breaks, but rather when.”
The world will still need to use oil for the foreseeable future. So, when oil spills occurs on land from leaking pipelines or at sea from capsizing oil tankers or malfunctioning drill rigs, the clean-up process must be simple and efficient, incurring as little damage to the environment as possible.
Clean Earth Technologies understands this crucial need for effective, eco-friendly oil spill remediation and has been evaluating several variations of polysulfides, which are both porous and hydrophobic, that are capable of capturing oil in seconds. These polymers are also elastic, which allow for simple mechanical recovery and reuse. Efforts are currently being directed at commercialising the material for oil sorbent applications in the near future.