So far, 2013 isn't shaping up to be the energy industry's safest year. A number of disasters have occurred, which have brought unwanted attention to the industry. Here's a look at the industry's five biggest blunders so far this year.
A Herculean disaster averted in the Gulf
Just this past week, a blowout occurred on a Hercules (NASDAQ:HERO)-owned rig operating in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Natural gas leaking from a well off the coast of Louisiana caught fire and spread to the Hercules rig. Fortunately, all 48 personnel in the rig were safely evacuated. However, the incident underscores the risks of drilling offshore. It could have been a lot worse, as no one was hurt, and this is a natural gas well so the environmental threats are far less than if it were an oil well. While the well is not yet under control, Hercules investors appear to have caught a break, which is why stock was down only about 4% on the week.
The Gulf aflame, again
Earlier in the year, oil did catch fire in the Gulf after a Chevron (NYSE:CVX)-owned pipeline caught fire after being hit by a tugboat pushing an oil barge. Cleanup crews were quick to respond in deploying thousands of feet of containment booms and skimmers. However, the incident left a mile-long oil sheen in the Gulf, which isn't something any of us wanted to see in the Gulf again. Luckily, the incident didn't cause much harm or damage, though it did serve as a reminder of the risks we face in securing our energy future.
ExxonMobil's oily mess
Oil and gas giant ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) had a pretty big mess on its hands when its 70-year-old Pegasus oil pipeline sprang a leak. In late March, the pipeline spilled about 5,000 barrels of crude oil, or about 210,000 gallons, in Mayflower, Ark. Luckily, that was just a fraction of the 90,000 barrels of crude oil that flow through the pipeline each day. The spill caused quite a stir against the transporting of crude oil by pipes, and it certainly didn't help the cause of the politically charged Keystone XL. Nor did it help that the pipeline sprang a small leak again about a month later. This time it spilled about one barrel of crude oil in a residential yard about 200 miles from the Mayflower spill.
Canada's national tragedy
Unfortunately, the year was marred by more than just close calls. Earlier this month, a runaway train loaded with oil derailed in a quaint lakeside town in Quebec. An ensuing explosion caused an estimated 1.5 million gallons of oil to catch fire, ultimately killing 47 people. Despite a previously stellar safety record, oil-by-rail has seen several spills this year, including three small spills earlier this year by Canadian Pacific (NYSE:CP). Its largest accident resulted in a spill of 30,000 gallons of oil in Minnesota. However, those spills are really a drop in the bucket when compared with the devastating tragedy in Canada, which is by far the worst oil-by-rail disaster since the industry started relying on the rails because of a lack of pipeline capacity.
The wrong chemical equation
The extraction and transportation of natural gas and oil wasn't the only part of the energy industry to endure a tragic incident. This past April, a fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Texas, caught fire and exploded, killing at least 14 while injuring more than 200. The fallout from the incident has the town suing the plant's supplier, CF Industries (NYSE:CF). The suit says that CF "blindly" supplied about 200 tons of a volatile compound to the West Fertilizer Company without investigating whether the plant could store it safely. The wooden warehouse that stored the ammonium nitrate didn't have fire-resistant partitions or a sprinkler system. Further, it was stored in combustible wooden bins with significant amounts of combustible seeds, which is what helped fuel the intensity of the fire.
Final Foolish thoughts
There's no way to sugar-coat this: 2013 has been a terrible year for the energy industry as well as sectors closely associated with it. The loss of human life is especially heartbreaking, as several of these disasters will leave a lasting impact. However, we must push forward for a brighter tomorrow and work together to ensure better safeguards are in place so incidents like these don't ever happen again.
Fool contributor Matt DiLallo has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron and owns shares of CF Industries Holdings. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.