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Arkansas Oil Spill Reveals Dangers of Tar Sands Pollution, Weakness of Pipeline Infrastructure


On Friday, March 29 , a leak was discovered in a section of Exxon's Pegasus pipeline running through a subdivision in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, spilling up to 10,000 barrels of Candadian tar sands oil over 45 minutes into yards, down a street and into a storm drain.  Twenty-two homes were evacuated that afternoon. 


The Group Tarsands Blockade travelled to the area on April 2nd to inspect the damage first-hand, and discovered from graduate students at the University of Central Arkansas that crude from tar sands differ from other crude oil spills in that "the substance that coats the land and animals is thicker, like sludge, and seems to cause blisters and skin irritation at a rate higher than crude."    The same type of crude– called dilbit– was involved in a 2010 spill of more than 800,000 gallons in Michigan, thousands of gallons of which are still embedded in the Kalamazoo riverbed.  The group was able to secure interviews with local residents despite stern warnings from the local police to stay away from the area.  They report:

We’ve been able to secure interviews with locals who are none too happy with the way ExxonMobil has now permanently affected their community. One woman, who lives just outside the evacuation zone, is reporting that the stench of tar sands is so strong throughout her home that she’s unable to eat. Though she lives just one house away from the evacuation zone, she has yet to be contacted by Exxon officials regarding the spill."  


Later that week,the situation deteriorated for some residents close to the spill who had not been evacuated:

 "The residents had not been contacted by Exxon or warned in any way about the dangers of tar sands. Both canceled the interview because they were feeling too sick to meet. Vomiting, headaches, dizziness, burning throats and coughing: the exact same symptoms felt by Kalamazoo residents after the Enbridge tar sands spill there in 2010."


Environmental groups cite the dangers of Canadian tar sands crude as one of the many reasons not to support the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a decision about which is expected to be made by President Obama soon.


The Sierra Club almost immediately released this video about the oil spill to point out the dangers of transporting Tar Sands:



The Washington Post argues that the Keystone pipeline would be "a state-of-the-art pipeline with an array of safety features," and points to the far greater danger of the "half-million miles of less-advanced high-volume pipelines that carry oil, gas and other hazardous materials across the country every hour of every day."  The Post notes that the Pegasus Pipeline was built in the 1940s, and its rupture serves as an "oily reminder that, for now, the exceptional advances in living standards that the world’s advanced economies have seen still rely on the ready abundance of a volatile, toxic sludge." 



See our media gallery below to learn more about the groups protesting the Keystone XL pipeline and the use of tar sands oil imported from Canada.