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Exxon Spills Tar Sands Oil Again, Can’t Find 126,000 Gallons Spilled In Arkansas

Joseph Romm's picture
American Progress
  • Member since 2018
  • 1,651 items added with 332,049 views
  • May 3, 2013

Exxon, cleaning up another oil spill from the Pegasus tar sands oil pipeline. (Credit: KAIT)

ExxonMobil has now confirmed that on Tuesday, the Pegasus pipeline that has been out of service since it spilled thousands of barrels of oil into Mayflower, Arkansas in March spilled some more into a yard in Missouri. In the town of Doniphan about 190 miles north of Mayflower, a resident reported seeing some oil and dead vegetation in the yard. Though small in scope, perhaps as little as 42 gallons, the spill is a reminder that oil is messy, tar sands oil particularly so, and transporting it across the country is extremely risky.

More pressing is the missing oil in Mayflower from the spill last month. The Sierra Club requested the accident incident report, which said that 3,000 barrels of oil (some 126,000 gallons) have not been recovered no matter how energetic Exxon’s response was:

Despite a massive cleanup effort in the Mayflower, Arkansas, neighborhood, the federal pipeline safety agency reports that ExxonMobil has recovered only 2,000 of the total 5,000 barrels of spilled tar sands crude. The accident incident report, which the agency shared with the Sierra Club after a Freedom of Information Act request, gives new insight into the size of the spill and the ineffectiveness of the cleanup effort. The report reveals that in total 83 people were evacuated from their homes, emergency response took 40 minutes, the pipeline was operating at 708 pounds of pressure when it burst, and 2,000 barrels reached local waterways.

The Pegasus pipeline was built to carry diesel fuel in 1947, Exxon converted the pipeline to carry tar sands crude and reversed its flow in 2006. In 2011, the federal pipeline safety agency fined Exxon $26,500 for failure to properly inspect a section of the line.

The report also states that even though there are at least 3,000 unrecovered barrels of oil, the current “estimated cost of public and non-Operator private property damage” is $0. At the same time, when ClimateProgress reported on the tax loophole that allows oil companies like Exxon to avoid paying into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund because tar sands oil is not classified as oil, Exxon’s response was that it was “paying all valid claims relating to the spill.” They even doubled down and tweeted as much. But Exxon’s opinion of what a constitutes a “valid” claim is key here.

The oil in this pipeline is not paying a cent per barrel into the cleanup fund created to be the backstop for corporate intransigence: “When the responsible party is unknown or refuses to pay, funds from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund can be used to cover removal costs or damages resulting from discharges of oil.”

Last month, local residents filed a lawsuit against Exxon seeking $5 million in damages. The cleanup is still ongoing, and many residents have still not been allowed back into their homes a month after the spill. In fact, Exxon has offered to buy some of the affected homes.

Exxon’s tar sands oil spills into a cove of Lake Conway, Arkansas. (Credit: Greenpeace Photo by Karen E. McCall)

Those 3,000 barrels, or 126,000 gallons of heavy tar sands crude oil, went somewhere. Exxon acknowledges that it did spill into a cove near Lake Conway. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel confirmed that the cove does connect to Lake Conway. Third-party observers have noted that this means there is oil flowing into the Arkansas River.

Exxon points to testing from the Arkansas DEP that find no oil in Lake Conway, but those tests only sample the top and bottom of the Lake. Other tests sampling the whole water column have found oil in Lake Conway. If the spill has spread beyond Mayflower, an apologetic “community newsletter” featuring the release of selected ducks and turtles into marshland will not be enough.

While Exxon’s Valdez spill more than 20 years ago was much larger that the Mayflower spill, the company was rebuffing claims of liability for future losses as recently as 2011.

Exxon pulled in $9.5 billion in pure profits in the first quarter of this year.

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