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As Obama Ponders Fate of Keystone XL, Major ExxonMobil Oil Spill in Arkansas Is Major Warning for Risks We Face

Bill McKibben talks about the significance of the Arkansas spill.

Photo Credit: AFP


AMY GOODMAN: ExxonMobil continues cleanup efforts after a ruptured pipeline sprayed thousands of barrels of crude oil across a central Arkansas subdivision, forcing nearly two dozen homes to evacuate. The 20-inch so-called "Pegasus" tar sands pipeline burst late Friday near Mayflower, Arkansas, creating what the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, is categorizing as a "major spill."

Officials say the pipeline gushed oil for 45 minutes before being stanched. More than 12,000 barrels of oil and water have been recovered. According to Exxon, the pipeline will be excavated as part of its investigation to determine the cause of the leak. ExxonMobil says about 50 claims have been filed so far by people affected by the oil spill. Local news station KTHV 11 spoke to two Mayflower residents impacted by the spill.

MAYFLOWER RESIDENT 1: You know, we’re all having to pay mortgages, and we can’t even live in our houses or—you know, basically, if it doesn’t fit in our car, we don’t have it right now. So, we’re really concerned about that, and we’re just concerned about our property values. And what is ExxonMobil going to do for us?

MAYFLOWER RESIDENT 2: I had no idea that there was a pipeline out here, I mean, literally right at the corner of the subdivision. Supposed to be a 20-inch pipeline, run from Illinois to Texas. I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: ExxonMobil confirmed the pipeline was carrying western Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude at the time of the leak. According to  Inside Climate News, this type of crude oil is especially difficult to clean up when it spills into water. Efforts are currently underway to prevent the oil from contaminating the nearby drinking source, Lake Conway.

The spill is refueling calls on the Obama administration to reject the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed 1,700-mile pipeline would deliver tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.

For more, we go to Bill McKibben, co-founder and director of  350.org, author of  Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. We did invite ExxonMobil on the air; they declined.

Bill, can you talk about the significance of this spill?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, one thing to bear in mind is, when we’re thinking about this—whether or not to approve this Keystone pipeline, the pipe that just burst in Arkansas carries less than a tenth of the amount of this heavy tar sands crude that Keystone would. It’s about 80,000 barrels a day, not 900,000 barrels a day. So, multiply the pictures you’re seeing from Arkansas by 10, and then, of course, transpose them on top of the Ogallala Aquifer—not a pretty picture in any way.

Also, of course, the Pegasus pipeline, just like the Keystone pipeline, was touted for having the latest and most advanced leak-detection technology, and on and on and on. This is just one more sign of what a misbegotten adventure this whole tar sands thing is. There’s an tremendous  op-ed piece inNew York Times today from the Canadian writer Thomas Homer-Dixon, pointing out that a plurality of Canadians oppose this pipeline and are eager to get rid of the whole tar sands business. You know, this is—this is a disaster not waiting to happen; it’s a disaster happening in slow motion. And the only question is whether the Obama administration and the Kerry State Department are going to go along with it or not.

AMY GOODMAN: ExxonMobil did release a statement that read in part, quote, "Emergency response efforts are focused on ensuring the safety of the community members and the response workers, addressing community concerns and the cleanup process. Precautions are in place to keep oil away from Lake Conway," they said. Bill, how has ExxonMobil’s response to the spill compared to last ones?

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