The ExxonMobil pipeline spill accident comes roughly two weeks before State Department officials head to Nebraska to vet public comments on the Keystone XL pipeline. How will the ExxonMobil spill in Arkansas impact the Keystone XL pipeline debate?
Courtney Spradlin/Log Cabin Democrat/AP
Exxon Mobil dispatched more than 100 responders to a community in Arkansas to address a release from its Pegasus pipeline system. So far, the company said it has managed to recover thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude oil and water from last week's spill. Though no major waterways were said to be polluted from the spill, the Environmental Protection Agency categorized the incident as a major release. The accident comes roughly two weeks before U.S. State Department officials head to Nebraska to vet public comments on the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Critics of the project, however, got in line early following the Arkansas spill.
In its latest update, Exxon said it had 15 vacuum trucks, 33 storage tanks and 120 employees in Mayflower, Ark., responding to a release from the Pegasus pipeline system. The company said around 12,000 barrels of oil and water were recovered, boom was deployed and a claims hotline was already established. In response to the incident, the company said nearly two dozen homes were evacuated, though no oil has managed to migrate to nearby Lake Conway.
Late last month, U.S. pipeline safety regulators recommended Exxon pay a $1.7 million fine for a 2011 spill from its Silvertip pipeline into the Yellowstone River in Montana. About 1,500 barrels of crude oil spilled from that release, which was said to be tied to river scour. The government said in that case that Exxon (NYSE: XOM) didn’t take seasonal flooding, erosion and river scour into Silvertip safety considerations. No cause was indicated yet for the Arkansas release. (Relative article: Keystone XL – Why Protestors Should be Focusing on a Much Bigger Issue)
Jane Kleeb, director of Keystone XL pipeline opponent Bold Nebraska, pounced on the Arkansas spill by saying Exxon's initial response was the "same lie" used by Enbridge after a rupture from its pipeline network in Michigan led to the worst onshore oil spill in U.S. history. She said incidents like the Arkansas spill provide a clear indication of what could happen in any of the cities along the proposed route for the planned Keystone XL pipeline.
Exxon said parts of the Pegasus pipeline system were built in the 1940s. There was no indication of how much oil spilled from the pipeline and the company hasn't started the operations necessary to determine the extent of the environmental damage. That's likely to stay on the minds of those attending an April 18 meeting in Nebraska on the planned Keystone XL oil pipeline. Project planner TransCanada says safety it’s a top priority for that project, however.
The State Department's preliminary assessment of Keystone XL said some of the environmental impacts of exploiting heavy Canadian crude, the type designated at times for pipelines like Silvertip and Pegasus, would occur with or without TransCanada's pipeline. The spill in Arkansas, and the 2010 incident in Michigan, makes it appear that the dangers of Canadian crude are commonplace given the high-profile nature of Keystone XL. The U.S. government's report added that rail should be considered against Keystone XL when determining the national interest. But even that argument falls flat for critics like Oil Change International, which points to last week's oil spill from a train derailment in Minnesota. The group, a Bold Nebraska ally, said it expected safety to be the name of the game for the oil industry as the Keystone debate kicks into high gear.
"If that is the case, then (the industry) is not doing a great job at all," it said. "On either rail or road."