The latest news of the Yellowstone River oil spill quickly connects back to Joe Berlinger's Crude (2009). Crude examines the long term effects of oil development in the rain forests of Ecuador. Decades of environmental compromises in the search, development, extraction and delivery of crude oil has significantly damaged all of nature in these areas. Soil, water, insect, animal and human lives have all been compromised in the search for huge profits. Much of the damage done could have been eliminated if the techniques for extraction were far less brutal and developers far more concerned with the long term health of the area's total eco-system.
Crude then follows the long series of court cases brought against the oil companies for the damage done and examines the citizens of the Ecuadorean rain forest damaged by such exploration confronting what the law really means when they decide to pursue justice. What this film makes clear is that when the extraction is done away from "civilization" it is as if it has never happened. Hiding the production means no questions are asked, but when simple farmers demand justice and are willing to provide both the evidence and the patience to pursue their rights, facts sometimes reach the light of day.
The Yellowstone River is the longest unobstructed river in the United States. Placing a large oil pipeline six feet under the river bed was a great idea, because it was so cheap, but now Exxon is facing the consequences of its money saving plans. I have talked to a man who has fished a lot of that river over the years and he was flabbergasted to find out that the pipe was only six feet deep. With such a large, free flowing river, whose bottom was constantly subjected to shifts, the pipeline should have been 50 feet deep at the minimum. But no one questions the line when it has disappeared and no one knows its depth until floods shift the river bed, crack the pipe and 10,000 barrels of crude pollutes the river. That's 420,000 gallons of crude oil.
The citizens of Montana now find themselves in the same situation as the citizens of the Ecuadorean rain forests that have been heavily damaged by oil spills. Land is being destroyed, fishing is being wiped out, water supplies are being threatened, citizens are claiming health issues and floods are threatening to spread the pollution quickly before it can be totally enclosed.
This problem could have been avoided if the pipeline had been properly placed, but the dice were rolled and now the oil companies responsible have to pay for the cost cutting they engaged in when the pipeline was constructed. Montana will be dealing with the spill for many years to come, just like the people of Ecuador. The big difference is that the day the spill occured it became public knowledge and no politician could claim they had no idea any problem existed. This spill is making environmentalists out of politicians that only a week ago made fun of "greens", "environmentalists", and those onerous EPA laws that inhibit the search for energy at any cost.