On or around March 29 a two to three inch “gash” opened up in a 65 year-old oil pipeline in Arkansas. The pipeline wasn’t out in some no-man’s land, whatever that means, and it didn’t explode in a spectacular fashion guaranteed to grab the attention of a “Hey-check-this-out” video-obsessed media and public. On March 30 the pipe, buried two feet beneath a residential neighborhood, broke open and sent oil flowing into the yards, around the homes, across the cul-de-sac and down the street of a suburban subdivision in the small city of Mayflower 25 miles outside of Little Rock. 22 homes were evacuated and there is still no word on when residents will be able to return. The pipeline’s owner ExxonMobil claims approximately 5000 barrels of oil have soaked the soils and seeped into drainage ditches in the area. A class action lawsuit filed in federal court on April 5 alleges that the amount of heavy crude spilled actually exceeds 19000 barrels. Oil also flowed into tributaries of a nearby lake. According to local officials and ExxonMobil, the spill has not reached the lake, but booms have been placed at the mouth of Lake Conway as a precaution. Water supplies have been deemed safe. Some residents and environmental activists on the ground claim a widespread disaster, while ExxonMobil touts its containment efforts. Media coverage has been spotty and a no-fly zone has been instituted over the area at ExxonMobil’s request making aerial assessments for public information purposes impossible. Exxon’s own website for the Mayflower spill which has posted daily updates since March 30, has noted a substantial increase in the number of responders, starting with 100 in the first update, and is now up to more than 700 as of April 6. The response teams are getting bigger, but no one’s going home yet.
Next up: Pipeline oversight