ExxonMobil is continuing cleanup operations after an oil pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of Canadian crude in Arkansas. The spill has led many to speak out against oil sands exploitation and the construction of Keystone XL pipeline.
Exxon's Pegasus pipeline – which can carry more than 90,000 barrels of Canadian Heavy crude oil per day from Patoka, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas – was shut down after the leak was discovered on Friday in a suburban area near the town of Mayflower, Arkansas.
Shocking amateur video recorded by a resident that went viral, showing the immediate aftermath of the spill as streets flooded and oil burst forth:
"The smell is quite horrendous both outside and inside our
home. There is a strong smell of oil in our vehicles, as well,"
resident Chris Harrell told RT.
Twenty-two homes have been evacuated so far, and more are expected. "Excavation is necessary as part of an investigation to determine the cause of the incident," Exxon spokesperson Alan Jeffers told Reuters.
The accident has left evacuated residents seeking shelter
elsewhere. "Basically if it doesn't fit in our car we don't have
it right now," local resident Ryan Senia said. He had
previously listed his home for sale, but said the spill has forced
him to take it off the market.
The spill totaled upwards of 10,000 barrels, according to an ExxonMobil press release. So far, about 12,000 barrels of oil and water have reportedly been recovered. The company has deployed 15 vacuum trucks, 33 storage tanks and 120 workers to the cleanup site.
"There are literally hundreds of cleanup crew people in our
area...no one has a definite time frame on how long they will be
here, but some people are saying months," Harrell said.
A 3,600-foot boom was also installed near Lake Conway, and an approximately 51-centimeter pipeline was shut down to prevent the spilled oil from reaching the water. So far, no oil has reached the lake.
The cause of the spill is being investigated, and cleanup operations are being coordinated with the Department of Emergency Management and other local authorities.
The Heavy Crude that the Pegasus Pipeline was carrying at the
time needs to be blended with lighter oils or natural gas liquids
in order to flow through, and some environmentalists suspect that
this type of oil sand crude is more corrosive to pipelines. Exxon
was fined in 2010 for not inspecting another portion of the Pegasus
line with sufficient frequency.
Meanwhile, the community is anxious to see how the oil giant
plans to handle the situation: "The major concern for many
people in our neighborhood is the long-term impact, both
environmentally and financially. For example, what is this going to
do to our property values?" Harrell said. He added that many
local residents are angry, and were not aware that the pipeline ran
through the area.
Richard Steiner, an environmental consultant for Oasis Earth,
spoke with RT Monday to describe the ecological and possible
political ramifications of the Arkansas oil spill. He blamed a lack
of responsibility among US safety regulators who allowed the
Pegasus pipeline to remain in operation for over 50
"There’s no excuse whatsoever for oil pipelines to be
anything over 30 years old,” he said. “Their general design
life is maybe 20-30 years old. The federal administration within
the Department of Transportation in the US – the pipeline and
hazardous material safety administration – isn’t doing its job. Nor
is industry. There’s a general complacency within industry and
government that says, ‘Look, don’t worry we’ve got this. You should
just be happy. We know how to do this work. Stay out of our
business.’ But this happens time and time and time and again. It
just goes to show you people make mistakes."
Local media reported that journalists were barred from entering the site for over 30 hours following the disaster.
The leak comes amid growing opposition to the
controversial Keystone XL project, which would see an oil pipeline
run across the US Midwest. TransCanada Corp.'s plan to pipe Alberta
oil sands to the US Gulf Coast has been met with criticism over the
possible environmental impact.
The project has been embroiled in ongoing controversy. Project
supporters have worked to persuade the US to approve the $7-billion
project, arguing that the Keystone XL would create thousands of new
jobs and free the country from energy dependence on South American
exporters such as Venezuela.
Though, according to Christopher Williams, an environmental
activist and professor at Pace University who spoke with RT on
Monday , Keystone has "nothing to
do with reducing gasoline costs in the United States -- most of
that oil is to be exported, it's not for US consumption. So, this
is very much a bonanza for the oil companies, and a disaster for
Environmentalists have expressed concerns over the pollution risks inherent to the controversial tar sands method of oil production. Even the US State Department admits the Keystone project will create "numerous" and "substantial" impacts on the environment.
In a March draft environmental impact statement, the US said that the Canadian synthetic crude oil the pipeline is slated to transport into the US produces 17 per cent more greenhouse gases than natural crude oil already refined there. It also said that the construction phase of the project would result in carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to about 626,000 passenger vehicles operating for one year.
The report also said the pipeline could disturb highly erodible soil, degrade streams, encroach on habitats of federally protected species, and be susceptible to potentially disastrous leaks and spills.
But despite its environmental toll, the US says the Keystone pipeline it is still a better option than proposed alternatives which are “not reasonable.”
President Barack Obama will have the final say on the project, which has been pending for more than four years, as environmental activists battle to kill it.
Last week, the US Department of Transportation fined ExxonMobil Corporation $1.7 million over pipeline safety violations in the 2011 Yellowstone River oil spill. The claim alleged that the company did not respond quickly enough, and that there was a “known threat,” according to the US Pipeline Safety Administration. The spill leaked about 63,000 gallons of crude oil into the Montana River, and caused massive flooding.