dilbit

New Documents show Exxon knew of contamination from the Maryflower oil spill, still claimed lake was "oil-free"

  • Posted on: 21 May 2013
  • By: JesseColeman

On March 29 ExxonMobil, the most profitable company in the world, spilled at least 210,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from an underground pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. The pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada, which flooded family residences in Mayflower in thick tarry crude. Exxon’s tar sands crude also ran into Lake Conway, which sits about an eighth of a mile from where Exxon’s pipeline ruptured.

The cove of Lake Conway which Exxon claimed was "oil-free"

A new batch of documents received by Greenpeace in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has revealed that Exxon downplayed the extent of the contamination caused by the ruptured pipeline. Records of emails between Arkansas’ DEQ and Exxon depict attempts by Exxon to pass off press releases with factually false information. In a draft press release dated April 8, Exxon claims "Tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free." However, internal emails from April 6 show Exxon knew of significant contamination across Lake Conway and the cove resulting from the oil spill.

When the chief of Arkansas Hazardous Waste division called Exxon out on this falsehood, Exxon amended the press release. However, they did not amend it to say that oil was in Lake Conway and contaminant levels in the lake were rising to dangerous levels, as they knew to be the case. Instead, they continue to claim that Lake Conway is "oil-free." For the record, Exxon maintains that the "cove," a section of Lake Conway that experienced heavy oiling from the spill, is not part of the actual lake. Exxon maintains this distinction in spite of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saying unequivocally "The cove is part of Lake Conway…The water is all part of one body of water." Furthermore, Exxon water tests confirmed that levels of Benzene and other contaminants rose throughout the lake, not just in the cove area.

Though Exxon was eventually forced to redact their claim that the cove specifically was  "oil-free," the oil and gas giant has yet to publicly address the dangerous levels of Benzene and other contaminants their own tests have found in the body of Lake Conway. The Environmental Protection Agency and the American Petroleum Institute don’t agree on everything, but they do agree that the only safe level of Benzene, a cancer causing chemical found in oil, is zero. Benzene is added to tar sands oil to make it less viscous and flow more easily through pipelines.  Local people have reported fish kills, chemical smells, nausea and headaches. Independent water tests have found a host of contaminants present in the lake.

Dead fish in Palarm creek, which Lake Conway drains into. Palarm creek is a tributary of the Arkansas River.

According to Exxon’s data, 126,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from the pipeline spill is still unaccounted for.

Exxon's spill emanated from the Pegasus Pipeline, which like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, connects the Canadian Tar Sands with refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

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ExxonMobil, other pipeline operators don't have to pay into oil spill fund when it's tar sands oil?!

  • Posted on: 2 April 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Photos courtesy of Lady with a Camera.

Written by Carol Linnitt, crossposted from DeSmog Canada.

As Think Progress has just reported, a bizarre technicality allowed Exxon Mobil to avoid paying into the federal oil spill fund responsible for cleanup after the company's Pegasus pipeline released 12,000 barrels of tar sands oil and water into the town of Mayflower, Arkansas.

According to a thirty-year-old law in the US, diluted bitumen coming from the Alberta tar sands is not classified as oil, meaning pipeline operators planning to transport the corrosive substance across the US - with proposed pipelines like the Keystone XL - are exempt from paying into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

News that Exxon was spared from contributing the 8-cents-per-barrel fee to the clean-up fund added insult to injury this week as cleanup crews discovered oil-soaked ducks covered in "low-quality Wabasca Heavy Crude from Alberta." Yesterday officials said 10 live ducks were found covered in oil, as well as a number of oiled ducks already deceased.

Photographer Eilish Palmer, known as Lady with a Camera, has been working with HAWK (Helping Arkansas Wild Kritters), a wildlife rehabilitation centre, to locate and help ducks and other animals affected by the spill.

We I connected with Eilish on the phone she was in the rain, searching for more oil-covered animals: "I'm actually out in the woods right now looking for animals. We just found two dead ducks and one live one…We actually saw a dead wood duck and we saw its mate, it couldn't fly away, only walk. It was pretty saturated." 

Eilish said HAWK was the first responder for affected wildlife in the area but has since seen Exxon establish a local mobile unit to treat animals on site. "As the number of animals increased Exxon brought in their own rehabilitation centre because we were taking that animals to a centre about an hour away. HAWK doesn't have a mobile unit."

In addition to ducks, the team working with HAWK also found this oil-laden male muskrat, suggesting a number of species may be affected.

Faulkner Country Judge Allen Dodson said "I'm an animal lover, a wildlife lover, as probably most of the people here are. We don't like to see that. No one does."

He added, "Crude oil is crude oil. None of it is real good to touch."

The Exxon spill leaked 80,000 gallons of oil into an Arkansas residential area, causing the evacuation of 40 homes. This weekend Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. president Gary Pruessing told displaced homeowners, "If you have been harmed by this spill then we're going to look at how to make that right." 

According to InsideClimate News, Exxon is currently preventing the media from accessing the spill scene. Today the Arkansas Attourney General announced an investigation is being launched into the cause of the 60-year old pipeline's rupture. 

The Pegasus pipeline was originally built in the 1940s and was recently dormant for four years before its flow was reversed to carry Alberta diluted bitumen from Illinois to the Gulf Coast. In 2006 Exxon called the line's reversal a win-win for the people of the Gulf Coast and Canada.

The revelation that companies transporting diluted bitumen in the US have some concerned about pre-existing pipelines, as well as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that will transport the tar sands-derived oil across a number of ecologically sensitive areas. 

According to the NRDC, in 2011 a number of pipelines carried Alberta bitumen in the US:

Although the spread of oil refineries across the US receiving bitumen suggests the network of tar sands oil transport is much more widely spread across the States:

The network potentially connecting bitumen-carrying pipelines with other pipelines is quite extensive across the US:

Last week a coalition of environmental groups, communities and inviduals petitioned the US EPA and Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Association (PHMSA) to place a moratorium on pending tar sands pipelines, including the Keystone XL pipeline, until new safety rules are established. 

"Simply put, diluted bitumen and conventional crude oil are not the same substance," the petitioners wrote. "There is increasing evidence that the transport of diluted bitumen is putting America's public safety at risk. Current regulations fail to protect the public against those risks. Instead, regulations ... treat diluted bitumen and conventional crude the same."

Image Credit: Refinery map by ForestEthics. Wildlife photos courtesy of Eilish Palmer, Lady with a Camera, used with permission.

 

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