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Pipelines and poverty kill in Kenya

Salmaan Abdel Hamid Khan

November 23, 2011

On September 12 a leaking oil pipeline passing through the densely populated Sinai slum in Kenya exploded, killing more than 100 people and leaving scores horribly burnt.

According to Daniel Mutinda, a spokesperson from the Kenyan Red Cross, an “informal school” close to the site of the explosion had been particularly badly affected. “They have all been burnt,” he said. Driven by acute poverty and desperation, many of the victims were caught in the fire as they scoured the area with jerry cans, trying to collect as much of the leaking oil as they could.

In response to this tragedy, the Kenya Pipeline Company, a state run corporation, has accepted no responsibility, and in an interview following the incident, a spokesperson for the KPC demanded that those who managed to take some of the oil before the fire erupted “should return it immediately.” Rather than acknowledge the dangers of transporting fossil fuels, the Kenyan government has pledged that it will forcefully evict slum dwellers that live close to pipelines.

Molo Fire

This is not the first oil spill accident of its kind in Kenya: the “Molo Fire” in 2009 resulted in the deaths of more than 130 and left hundreds more injured. These tragic incidents serve as reminders about the risks associated with dangerous and dirty fossil fuels and the threat they pose to the surrounding population.

In Nigeria, an estimated 2,000 lives have been lost in recent years as a result of pipeline related accidents.According to the Associated Press, the Shell Oil Company spilled an estimated 4.5 million gallons of oil in Nigeria in 2009 alone, and according to Niger Delta Campaigners, there are almost “300 oil spills a year in Nigeria.” Not only is the population exposed to risks of oil fires but the leaking oil destroys precious farm land and pollutes nearby water reserves.

Given the threats posed, it is inconceivable as to why any government would approve of the proposed 2,673 km Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would carry up to 900,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada’s tar sands in Alberta—one of the most destructive energy projects in the world—to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

According to a University of Nebraska study, the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to leak nearly 100 times over the next 50 years. Increasing this risk is that fact that the corrosive oil found in the Alberta Tar Sands must be pumped under high temperature and pressure, dramatically weakening the pipelines and increasing the potential for oil spills.

Given this impending threat, not only to the lives of innocent people but to the surrounding environment, it is important that we organize against the Keystone XL pipeline, and prevent future “Molo Fires” and Sinai tragedies.

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