Viscous crude from the Alberta oil sands of Canada continues to flow along the streets and down the driveways of residents in Mayflower, Arkansas, as ExxonMobile struggles to contain a spill from a ruptured pipeline.
Nearly two dozen homes still stand empty, evacuated after the pipeline burst and flooded the suburban neighborhood. Cleaning crews are still sopping up the black, foul-smelling mess, and Keystone XL pipeline foes are armed with new ammunition.
ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline can carry up to 90,000 barrels of heavy crude oil from Canada down to the Gulf Coast refineries daily. The rupture released several thousand barrels of oil that filled the neighborhood’s yards and streets with a tar-like river.
Clean up operations began Saturday and still underway as of Tuesday, according to the latest of ExxonMobil.com's daily updates.
“Fifteen vacuum trucks and 33 storage tanks are on site to clean up and temporarily store the oil,” Exxon said in a statement on April 3. “Approximately 12,000 barrels of water and oil were recovered in the first several days, representing most of the free-standing oil. Crews are starting the removal of contaminated soil and vegetation from residential areas. Approximately 330 personnel are responding to the incident in addition to federal, state, and local resources.”
Here is footage created by one Mayflower local:
As of now the environmental impacts to the area appear to be relatively minimal, but that could change. Lake Conway, a major drinking source for the area, so far has not affected by the spill, and a “comprehensive containment system using boom has been laid out as a precaution to contain oil found in the marsh area above the cove,” Exxon said in its report. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified it as a major spill, according to CNN.
As of Monday April 1, the U.S. Environmental Services and Animal Response Services had begun wildlife rehabilitation operations. The teams reported finding 14 oil-saturated ducks, two turtles and a muskrat. Two additional ducks have been found dead. Officials are urging residents not to touch any injured or oiled animals but to report them to the claims hotline.
Though the cause of the spill is still under investigation, opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline plan to add this incident to their arsenal as they continue to combat the expansion project.
Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, called the Arkansas incident a "troubling reminder that oil companies still have not proven that they can safely transport Canadian tar sands oil across the United States without creating risks to our citizens and our environment,” in a statement.
His thoughts were echoed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has often pointed out that regardless of a company’s precautions, spills are inevitable. Moreover, crude from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, is not only more corrosive to pipelines than traditional crude but is also especially hard to clean up—a contingency that has not been addressed by environmental studies, the NRDC said. The Pegasus pipeline can pump up to 90,000 barrels per day, while Keystone XL would pump up to 800,000.
The spill that occurred on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan from an Enbridge Inc. pipeline in July 2010 is a case in point. Cleanup for the 20,000-barrel spill, initially estimated at about $400 million, quickly rose to $550 million. It is currently running more than $1 billion, according to the NRDC, and is still ongoing.
Several First Nations communities in Canada can attest to the damage that a pipeline rupture can cause. Little Buffalo First Nation had to close its school for days in 2011 when the Rainbow pipeline burst up in Alberta, Canada, flooding the aboriginals’ hunting grounds and waterways with more than 28,000 barrels of viscous crude from the oil sands. It was the province’s biggest pipeline spill in 36 years.
The Obama administration is scheduled to issue a decision on the Keystone expansion in the coming months. The public comment period is open until April 15.