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It's now been almost two weeks since ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline spill put at least 500,000 gallons of tar sands crude and contaminated water into the Arkansas community of Mayflower. Many of the evacuated families still haven't been able to return to their homes.

Sierra Club organizer Glen Hooks, who grew up about 20 miles southeast of Mayflower, in Gravel Ridge, attended a meeting for the displaced families at Mayflower High School: "I had to really stare down some ExxonMobil goons who told me to leave because it was a private meeting. I politely explained that it was a meeting in a public building about a public subject with numerous public officials in attendance, and that I was planning to stay."

Glen's soft-spoken, but he's not easily intimidated. Arkansas Business Journal named him an "Eco-Hero of the Year" for his work in helping to stop new coal-fired power plants. During the Mayflower meeting, Glen listened as an ExxonMobil executive apologized to the families and said that the focus was on safety and helping the homeowners. "The meeting then moved into a phase where ExxonMobil met with individual family members about their claims in a side room guarded by no fewer than six uniformed police officers."

Here's something that ExxonMobil probably didn't tell those homeowners: In 2010, it was fined $26,200 by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for failing to regularly inspect each point where the Pegasus line crosses under a navigable waterway.

This is a pipeline that crosses under the Mississippi River (just one of the places ExxonMobil failed to do inspections). It's hard to say which is more shocking: That "safety first" ExxonMobil has been so cavalier about pipeline inspections or that it was fined such a pittance for its irresponsibility. By my calculation, $26,200 comes out to about .00009% of ExxonMobil's net income for 2010. Let's put that in perspective. If ExxonMobil's income were the same as the median family income in Faulkner County, Arkansas, which is where its pipeline leaked, then ExxonMobil's fine for putting the Mississippi River at risk would have been not quite four cents.

No matter how much ExxonMobil ends up spending to clean up the mess in Mayflower, the impact on its profit statement will be minuscule. Unfortunately, no amount of cash can buy peace of mind for the families whose homes were violated by tar sands. Tar sands crude is both more toxic and much harder to clean than ordinary crude. Just ask Enbridge, which has now spent almost $1 billion and two years trying to clean up the Kalamazoo River after the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history. Enbridge has experience, too. There were 804 spills on its pipelines between 1999 and 2010.

No wonder ExxonMobil is doing everything it can to keep reporters and everyone else as far away from the Mayflower disaster as possible. The more the American public learns about the real cost of tar sands crude, the more opposition to the Keystone XL and other tar sands projects will increase.

Keystone XL opponents often point out that Americans assume all the risk of tar sands pipelines, while oil companies will rake in all the profit from tar sands exports. But let's be clear about the sort of risk we're talking about. If the pipeline is built, it's not a question of whether it will fail, but of when and where. We're not risking a disaster. Disaster is certain. We just don't know what the exact magnitude of the disaster will be. What if the Pegasus pipeline had failed under the Mississippi rather than in Mayflower?

Here's something we do know: The first Keystone XL disaster will be far worse than what happened in Mayflower, since TransCanada's pipeline will pump ten times as much tar sands crude as the Pegasus does.

I wish the disaster in Mayflower had never happened. Now that it has, though, I hope we heed its two biggest lessons: 1. How oil companies talk about safety has no connection to how they act. 2. The last thing you want to wake up and find in your backyard is a tar sands spill.

We have a few days left. Tell the president to keep his climate promises.

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Comment Preferences

  •  maybe next week to post update (4+ / 0-)

    this week the BIG issue is the fail of Obama and the democratic party

    and how even dailykos has to realize what is going on with the two parties who work for the 1%

    we can guess where Obama is on this issue given his response to the Deep Horizon disaster in the gulf

  •  Great Diary (7+ / 0-)

    Well said.  This event was handed to those of us against the XL pipeline.  We need to keep the pressure on the MSM to cover this.

    The symbol for the Republican party shouldn't be an elephant -- it should be a unicorn.

    by Deadicated Marxist on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 12:29:58 PM PDT

  •  Thank you (8+ / 0-)

    for keeping this ongoing tragedy on people's minds. (I fear the corporate media's lack of coverage will shield KeystoneXL from the facts.) Tonight and tomorrow, Mayflower is forecast to have significant rain and flooding. There's a picture at the tarsandsblockade link below of a plywood dam that's intended to confine the oil to the cove they've been talking about since the first night.

    Reading more news about it this morning, it just seems to get worse and worse.

    James Rutherford of the Calhoun County Health Department in Michigan recalled the same mistakes among clean-up crews in the aftermath of the Enbridge tar sands oil spill in Kalamazoo in 2010. He also said he foresees a familiar tragedy playing out from the oil stopped up in Mayflower wetlands, including the swale by the Applemans. "Those areas are the worst," he said. "That's where oil sits and not only vaporizes, but sinks."

    "So not only are you going to have short-term health issues, but a year or two from now, there will also be long-term problems," said Rutherford. "That's what we're dealing with now in Kalamazoo -- almost three years out."

    Tarsandsblockade is shedding some much needed light on the spill and the secrecy. A snip:
    During the day, workers and police are not wearing masks. We have spoken to several workers who had no idea that they were dealing with tar sands bitumen instead of crude oil. None were willing to talk further or go on the record.

    At night, according to reports from several residents, workers wear full protective suits. ....

    Over a dozen of the residents we’ve spoken to, as well as all five members of our film crew, have experienced a range of symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, gut-aches, burning throat, lethargy, nausea, and body-aches. These workers are in closer proximity to the spill for longer periods of time.

    We also have reports that Exxon is secretly removing dead fish from the lake at night. A resident saw a crew of workers in a boat near their property, trolling the lake with nets. Each net that came up, the resident said, held at least a dozen dead fish.

    Then there's this comment on Arkansas Blog:
    I work at one of the area hotels now housing hundreds of contractors pulled in by Exxon to clean up the oil spill. They've been told by Exxon to not talk about their work. They do, of course, to some extent. More than a few houses will eventually be met with bulldozers.
    Excellent diary, Michael, and kudos to Glen Hooks for his fine work! (Apologies as well for spilling more tar sands goop all over your diary ;)

    "Let each unique song be sung and the spell of differentiation be broken" - Winter Rabbit

    by cotterperson on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 12:33:09 PM PDT

  •  They are not "spills." They are ruptures and (6+ / 0-)

    gushers and explosions. They are the result of poor mainenance and poor repair. There is no excuse for it, except there are a whole lot of people who don't like to clean up their messes. Too long, they've considered Mother Nature as man's toilet, ignoring that man's habit of accumulating and concentrating stuff is contrary to the natural state of dispersion.

    What man hath put together, he needs to separate.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 12:41:48 PM PDT

  •  It's inspiring to see how the administration (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    has jumped in on this on behalf of the affected families, rather than leaving them to fend for themselves with Exxon.

    Isn't there some government agency that works on this sort of thing?

    Frankly, I'd rather take down Exxon or Goldman Sachs, the way we're taking down RushBeckistan, than elect another "better" Democrat whose going to wind up singing for the bankster choir.

    by Words In Action on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 01:09:18 PM PDT

  •  Main Arkansas paper not even covering it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peacestpete, cotterperson

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, main newspaper in Little Rock, is not even covering this.  If you go to the webiste, there is absolutely nothing on the front page.  I never was realy sure about the whole "corporate media" idea, but now I know who is in charge of the investigation - Exxon.

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