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14 Things You Need to Know About the Horrifying Arkansas Oil Spill

The situation remains fluid, as it were, with potential impacts possible from local to global.

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7. Who Instituted What Amounts to Martial Law in the Subdivision?

Nobody, at least not officially. Some reporters have complained about the heavy-handed controls imposed by authorities, who have effectively closed off the spill zone as they see fit. Suzi Parker in Grist  argued that ExxonMobil "has instituted something like martial law."

Lisa Song from Inside Climate News and Michael Hibblen of local public radio KUAR described similar encounters with the Faulkner County Sheriff's Department. Both recount the sheriff's deputies first denying them access to the site and herding them into a restricted area. Then, soon after, without explanation, the deputies ordered the reporters to leave within 10 seconds or face arrest for criminal trespass.

This use of county sheriff departments is a pattern in East Texas, where TransCanada is building the Keystone XL pipeline to carry more dilbit, tar sands oil, to Gulf coast refineries. In Texas the deputies under the control of TransCanada used pepper spray, physical violence, and forms of torture on protestors before arresting most of them. There have been no reported arrests in Arkansas.

8. What's the Difference Between Wabasca Heavy Crude and Tar Sands Oil?

Little or nothing.

If there's any significant difference, it's not widely known yet. It all comes from the same wide region of Canada, it's all bitumen, and it all has to be diluted to be moved by pipeline. What's in the pipeline is all diluted bitumen, or dilbit.

It's hard to find out what the dilutants (or diluents) are, which is probably important.

9. Where Does Wabasca Heavy Crude Oil Come From?

Wabasca Heavy comes from the tar sands region of Alberta, Canada. It moves primarily via Pembina and Rainbow pipelines to Edmonton and on to the pipeline nexus in Hardisty. From there it is distributed to destinations in Canada and the U.S.

One route takes Wabasca Heavy through the existing Keystone pipeline to Patoka, Illinois. There it transfers to ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline which takes it to Nederland, Texas, by way of Mayflower, Arkansas, about 25 miles north of Little Rock.

10. What Is this Pegasus Pipeline?

ExxonMobil owns and operates the Pegasus pipeline, a 20-inch diameter pipe that is 858 miles long and is mostly buried between Patoka, Illinois, and Nederland, Texas.

Pegasus was built in the 1940s, to bring refined oil north from Texas. In 2006, ExxonMobil reversed the direction of the pipeline's flow to carry Wabasca Heavy south. In 2009, ExxonMobil increased the carrying capacity of the pipeline by 50%, to 90,000 barrels per day. Published estimates of its carrying capacity range from 80,000 to 95,000 barrels per day.

An ExxonMobil press release announcing the expansion added that: "Operational enhancements, such as new leak detection technology, were also incorporated to support ExxonMobil Pipeline Company's primary focus on operating its pipelines in a safe and environmentally responsible manner."

The federal class action lawsuit alleges that these changes – including reversing the flow and increasing the capacity – weakened the pipeline and contributed directly to its failure in Mayflower.

On April 3, CBS News reported – falsely – that the pipeline had "carried crude oil from Canada to Texas for decades." CBS did not mention tar sands, bitumen, or dilbit, treating the spill by omission as if it were not unusual.

In 2010, ExxonMobil was fined $26,200 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration for failing to inspect the Pegasus pipeline as frequently as required by law.

The pipeline was last inspected in February 2013, but the results are not public.

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