Exxon Mobil’s methods of cleaning up the oil spill unleashed on an Arkansas neighborhood by its ruptured Pegasus pipeline March 29 could be doing more harm than good, says an environmental group that opposes the shipment of Canadian tar sands through cross-country U.S. pipelines.
According to Tar Sands Blockade, members of the group went to document the oil spill over the weekend and found “in order to get the tar sands out of the neighborhood where it spilled and out of sight and into one place for cleanup, Exxon power-washed the excess into a wetland area which had already been affected by the spill.”
The group said that the cleanup workers did so by washing the oil into storm drains, which flow into nearby wetlands. Aerial video taken shortly after a two-day no-fly zone was established over the affected area shows wetlands and waterways awash in the dense, black oil. The oil consists of Canadian tar sands mixed with lighter oils to facilitate its travel through the pipeline.
Exxon workers and officials put the town on lock-down after the spill erupted and forced the evacuation of at least 22 homes, imposing what Grist described as “something like martial law” on town residents. Residents and reporters were barred from some parts of town by Exxon officials and law enforcement authorities.
A group of Tar Sands Blockade members, however, “managed to make their way through the woods shortly before sundown over the weekend … and were able to get an up-close look at how severe the spreading actually is,” the group said.
“It was just before sunset, and most of the workers had gone home. We had tried to access this area before but always been kept out by workers and police,” TSB said. When they arrived at the area, the TSB members found the oil emptying out of the city’s storm drains into wetlands once occupied by a number of wildlife species. The contaminated area was just a couple hundred feet from the Bell Slough State Wildlife Management Area.
TSB asks whether giant oil companies should be allowed to send “heated, pressurized, corrosive tar sands bitumen” through pipelines like Pegasus that were built in the 1940s.
Estimates of the spill put it at around 157,000 gallons – many times greater than the Environmental Protection Agency’s designation of a major oil spill at 250 barrels.