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1 Apr, 2013 11:05

Keystoned? Exxon under fire as 10k barrels of oil spills on streets, floods Arkansas town

Keystoned? Exxon under fire as 10k barrels of oil spills on streets, floods Arkansas town

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.

Follow RT's in-depth day-by-day timeline on the Arkansas oil spill

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.

Emergency crews work to clean up an oil spill near Interstate 40 in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013 (Reuters / Jacob Slaton)

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 years.

"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.

Thank you Canada, fresh photo from Mayflower, Arkansas. Photo by KARK 4 News #Tarsands#NoKXL#NoGateway#cdnpoli twitter.com/bigpicguy/stat…

— Mark McCaw (@bigpicguy) March 31, 2013

@courtneyism need to get a reporter to northwoods subdivision in mayflower. big time oil leak twitter.com/shiftymcfive01…

— chris harrell (@shiftymcfive01) March 29, 2013

Keystone Pipeline

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 North Americans."

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.

Oilspill in my hood twitter.com/shiftymcfive01…

— chris harrell (@shiftymcfive01) March 29, 2013

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.

Spilled crude oil is seen in a drainage ditch near Starlite Road in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013 (Reuters / Jacob Slaton)

Emergency crews work to clean up an oil spill in front of evacuated homes on Starlite Road in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013 (Reuters / Jacob Slaton)

Emergency crews work to clean up an oil spill near Interstate 40 in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013 (Reuters / Jacob Slaton)

Emergency crews work to clean up an oil spill near Interstate 40 in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013 (Reuters / Jacob Slaton)