There are 185,000 miles of oil pipelines in the U.S., and not all of them are hidden in the outskirts of Alaska or Texas. The citizens of Glendale, California found this out the hard way Thursday, May 15 when more than 10,000 gallons of crude oil spewed onto the city streets, spraying as high as 60 feet, covering a half mile of land, and releasing noxious fumes across town. "We didn't even know there was a pipeline here,” an angry business owner in the Los Angeles suburb told USA Today. “We know now."
Some 80 percent of all oil spills come from faulty pipelines, and while large spills like Glendale's are rare, they do occur. In fact, earlier this year, in March, nearly the same amount of oil leaked into an Ohio Nature Preserve near Cincinnati.
Most of us have little idea where oil pipelines are buried – or if there are any near us at all. The easiest way to see if you’re in proximity of one is by logging on to the government’s U.S. Energy Information Administration site (eia.gov/state), which compiles the whereabouts of every gas and oil pipeline – as well as all power plants, refineries, coal mines, and fossil resources in the nation. To do your own research, follow the USEIA link, choose your state, and on the "Layers and Legends" menu at the top left, uncheck every box except "crude oil pipelines."
Spend a little time with this map and you'll find that the risks for urban dwellers are highly variable – New Yorkers and those in Seattle and the Northwest are pretty much clear of any issue, but the Midwest and Los Angeles are teeming with pipelines. We pored over the map to find some of the most at-risk areas in the country.
Major Cities On or Near Pipelines
Multiple lines run through Bakersfield, split off to service all of Southern California, and then eventually dead-end together at refineries in Long Beach. The Valley (where Thursday’s spill occurred), high traffic areas, and beachfront towns all have pipelines buried nearby.
Downtown is free of any pipelines, and most of the city is relatively safe so long as you live north of Midway airport and east of Aurora. But multiple lines run along the southern border of the city to a BP refinery on the water in East Chicago.
Texas is the top crude oil producer in the country, so lines are running all over the state, covering Dallas to Odessa. But there's even more in cities that rest on the Gulf and near the Louisiana border, like San Antonio and Houston.
Because of it's proximity to the Gulf, the French Quarter is a necessary hub for oil lines and refineries, and they understand the risk more than anyone, as the 2010 BP spill was a worst-case scenario, lasting months and devastating the entire coast. That was offshore, but even a minor incident in the city would pose a threat to the Wetlands.
Cushing, Oklahoma was designated the official main oil delivery point of the U.S. due to it’s central location, so Oklahoma City, only an hour east of the hub, is criss-crossed with pipelines that eventually connect up with Texas. The largest number is just outside downtown in nearby Norman.