Exxon's Mayflower Tar Sands Spill Updates

Exxon power-washes spilled tar sands oil into an area wetlands; A 22-foot gash was discovered in the ruptured Pegasus pipeline; Documents suggest that Exxon may have known something was wrong with the pipeline hours earlier than claimed; Exxon's lobbyists attempt to re-write history while the corporation tries to win over the community with its checkbook and health problems emerge in the area.

Exxon's Tar Sands Spill in Mayflower, AR: decided to power-wash diluted bitumen spilled in other areas to a wetlands area, via storm drains. Via Tar Sands Blockade.

Exxon Mobil Corp was working on Friday to remove the ruptured section of its Arkansas tar sands pipeline. Spokeswoman Kim Jordan said the length of the portion being removed from the Pegasus pipeline that ruptured two weeks ago would be determined once excavation to reach it had finished. However, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who launched an investigation into the tar sands spill, said earlier this week that the rupture was more than 22 feet long and two inches wide:

Via:

So far, crews have recovered about 28,200 barrels of oily water and about 2,000 cubic yards of oiled soil and debris, according to a statement from ExxonMobil and local officials.

"We still do not know how much oil was released. We still do not know the exact makeup of the crude itself, of the chemical solvents used in the transportation process," McDaniel said. "

Lisa Song of InsideClimate News reports that the 22 foot rupture is nearly 4 times the size of the pipeline tear that sent more than one million gallons of Canadian dilbit into Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010, the worst accident of its kind in U.S. history:

The size and speed of the release through a long opening, thin as a mail slot, shines a spotlight on just how quickly oil pipeline accidents can turn into catastrophes. Between 200,000 and 420,000 gallons of heavy oil spewed out of the 65-year-old pipeline without warning on March 29, Good Friday afternoon, forcing the evacuation of 22 suburban homes.

Few Americans realize how much pressure is needed to operate a pipeline like the Pegasus, which moves more than 90,000 barrels a day of crude across four states, from Illinois to Texas. That's almost four million gallons of heavy oil being pushed over an 850-mile distance in a single day.
...
"People just don't gather how high these things can go," said Richard Kuprewicz, president of the pipeline consulting firm Accufacts Inc. "For the average person, they're just exotic pressures." But if pipeline operators drop their guard, he said, pipelines "can be highly destructive."
...
However, the fact that the Pegasus ruptured while running below maximum pressure "is not good," Kuprewicz said, because it means something was wrong with the pipeline's integrity management. Pipelines are supposed to be safe even if they operate at slightly above the maximum operating pressure, he said, so the Pegasus line "failed at a negative safety margin."

Recently obtained police transcripts show Exxon employees arrived on the scene in Mayflower an hour after the emergency was first reported by a resident dialing 911, and raise questions over exactly when Exxon became aware of the problem with the Pegasus pipeline.

Katherine Bagley reports:

Exxon has maintained a studied silence on the events of the day, noting in press releases and communications with federal investigators that the company shut off the pipeline within 16 minutes of learning of the spill.

And while police reports indicate that Exxon found out about the spill when the company was notified by local officials, other documents suggest that the company may have known something was wrong hours earlier.

Exxon told the federal National Response Center that it saw a problem on the line at 1:15 p.m. when it spotted a drop in pressure, an hour and a half before the first 911 call reached the Faulkner County sheriff. The National Response Center is a division of the U.S. Coast Guard. Pipeline operators must notify the NRC of oil or chemical spills. Exxon placed that first call to the NRC at 4:06 p.m. local time, about 20 minutes after its responders arrived on the scene in Mayflower.

Two hours after filing that first report with the NRC, however, Exxon filed a second report reporting the time of the incident as 3:20 p.m. In a third report to the NRC the next day, Exxon again reported "the incident was discovered" at 1:15 p.m.

In an interview on Wednesday, Larry Hawthorne, the Exxon field regulatory specialist who made the first call to the National Response Center, said NRC made a "mistake" when it listed 1:15 p.m. He said the report should have said 3:15 p.m., because that's when an Exxon employee confirmed the spill on the ground. The police transcripts say Exxon did not arrive on the scene until 3:43 p.m.

So, along with this apparent attempt to re-write history, Exxon lobbyists are spinning away, and Exxon is trying to win over the community with its checkbook:

Kellie Tollison does not want ExxonMobil paying for a party to celebrate the end of state exams at her son’s elementary school.

“It is as if they are celebrating their oil spill with a party because the money was donated from Exxon,” Tollison told TakePart. “If they were giving it for educational purposes—new library books, new computers—that would be understandable because all schools in the United States would welcome donations for stuff like that.”
...
ExxonMobil gave $15,000 to the Mayflower Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Organization this week, after a PTO parent asked the company if they would donate water or supplies to the party. The elementary school is less than a mile and half from the pipeline's ruture, and some students have reported being sick from the oil fumes.

The donation, School Superintendent John Gray told a local television station, is “a positive thing.” He said, “I know this whole procedure was an inconvenience or a nuisance to that school. A lot of those children were affected negatively, some directly, some indirectly.”

Perhaps it's just me, but it seems very wrong to request water from a fossil fuel corporation.

And the health complaints emerged in Mayflower this week:

Sherry Appleman awoke abruptly in the middle of the night less than 48 hours after a pipeline rupture last month sent thousands of barrels of heavy crude oil into the streets and swamps of Mayflower, Ark.

"I couldn't breathe. My throat and nose and eyes were burning really bad," recalled Appleman, who lives on Lake Conway, about a mile outside the 22-home evacuation zone -- but next to a slough now full of the thick, sticky diluted bitumen. "I could smell that horrible smell. I got really scared."
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"A lot of the released chemicals -- benzene, hydrogen sulfide, toluene -- are still extremely toxic, especially to children, the elderly and pregnant women, at very low levels," said April Lane, chair of school health and safety with the Faulkner County Concerned Citizens Advisory Group.

Lane suggested that Mayflower residents may misinterpret air quality tests coming back from local agencies and industry with zeros, or with values that fall below what Exxon calls "necessary action levels," to mean that they are not in danger. The tests are not sensitive enough to detect levels of toxins that could cause harm, Lane noted. Further, such action levels are generally outdated and set for healthy workers, which means they may not take into account the greater effects a chemical can have on more vulnerable populations.

In order to better inform residents of the risks, Lane and her group are monitoring the air around Mayflower for a broader array of chemicals, and at levels in the parts per billion rather than the parts per million of current tests. They anticipate their independent results by late April.

"Claiming that the air is okay is simply inappropriate and unsafe," said Lane.

About Diane Sweet

Diane Sweet's picture
Senior Editor, Lives in a gerrymandered district in Michigan.

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