Biofuels Also Create Dangerous Spills

With the recent oil rig catastrophe and subsequent spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the biofuels industry is claiming it produces a cleaner alternative. But biofuels can produce environmentally harmful spills as well. Biofuel spills, leaks and fires have occurred across the nation and have resulted in pollution and aquatic life die-off. Growing biofuel production, a lack of government oversight, and biofuel producers’ unawareness of pollution regulations means that spills are likely to increase in frequency.

Q: How do biofuel spills occur?
A: Biofuel spills and fires usually occur from leaks and accidents in biofuels transport, which primarily occurs via trucks and trains. Spills also occur through discharges of byproduct pollutants from biofuel plants.

Q: What happens when biofuels spills occur?
A: Biofuels, particularly ethanol, are highly toxic to water ecosystems and have caused massive kills of aquatic life. A 2008 Missouri spill of biofuel byproducts leaked into waterways and killed an entire population of endangered mussels.[2] A 2009 ethanol spill caused Iowa’s largest fish-kill to date[3]. Additionally, as a highly-flammable fuel, fires and explosions can and do occur with spillage[4]. Further study of long-term effects is warranted: a GroundWater study found that biofuels spills have not been well-studied[5].

Q: How are biofuels cleaned up?
Due to the variety of types of biofuels and their pollutant byproducts, clean up procedures are still being fully developed[6], and for some water soluble fuels, like ethanol, removal from water is not an option. Biofuel fires and spills require special, expensive material for cleaning, as well as special training.

Q: What are other environmental impacts of biofuels?
Biofuels plants produce air pollution[7], as does using some types of biofuels, such as ethanol, in cars[8]. Pesticide, herbicide, fertilizer and soil runoff create pollute drinking water[1] and ecosystems. Biofuels can also do more to cause global warming than conventional gasoline.

Q: If oil is bad, and biofuels are too, what clean energy solution is there?
The best solution is to encourage energy conservation and use clean energy as a fuel. To that end, we need to invest in public transportation, electric cars, and smart growth planning and construction initiatives. The government also needs to be smart about where it spends taxpayer dollars. The billions of dollars in taxpayer money that go to corn ethanol could instead be invested in alternative biofuels, and in solar and wind technologies that are truly sustainable.

To see a PDF of this fact sheet, click here.

To read a SolveClimate article about  how the ethanol industry is exploiting the oil spill to push their costly agenda, click here.

For more information, contact:
Kate McMahon, Energy Policy Campaigner

202.222.0715, or [email protected]


May 5, 2010

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

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