A manmade disaster was made even worse by nature Wednesday night, as a severe thunderstorm hit Mayflower, Arkansas spreading the Exxon Mobil oil spill to the yards of homes along the cove and the main body of Lake Conway. For nearly two weeks, Exxon has maintained that oil has not reached Lake Conway, despite clear evidence both from aerial video and on-the-ground guerrilla reporting that showed oil had spread throughout a cove and wetlands, which are connected through ground water and drainage culverts to the main body of the lake. Images captured Wednesday night should put any doubt to rest that the main body of Lake Conway is now contaminated with oil.
Citizen journalists, Jak and Lauren, reporting for Tar Sands Blockade, braved the severe weather Wednesday, which included hail, lighting and chance of tornados, to report on what was happening to the site of the oil spill.Using the live video streaming service, UStream, Jak and Lauren broadcast from multiple locations, including the contaminated cove, Highway 89 that separates the cove and Lake Conway and the wetlands that were first documented in the now viral Tar Sands Blockade video.
A couple pieces of important news were reported by the duo Wednesday night. Their footage is not currently available to embed, but I took screenshots of their live broadcast to show what they were witnessing. I'll embed the video when it becomes available.
Here is a shot of the cove during heavy rains, taken from the yard of a resident that granted them permission to report from their property.
Here is an unfortunately blurry shot of that residents yard beginning to flood as rain fills the contaminated cove.
Jak reported that the smell of oil at this site had become stronger during the storm, suggesting the rain and wind had stirred up the spilled oil. According to residents, during heavy rains the cove had been known to flood their yards and even reach some of the homes, which was a huge concern with those cove waters heavily contaminated with oil.
As they shot video from this yard, a man was seen running along Highway 89 to the pumps and from what I could gather turned them on at that time.
Here are two pumps on the cove-side of Highway 89 that were turned on during the storm.
And here is the water being pumped out of the contaminated cove into the main body of Lake Conway. As you can see, there is one string of boom in the path of the water, but the flow pressure is so strong it is blowing right under and over the boom. Is this really supposed to be stopping the oil?
When the oil spill first occurred, much was made of the rapid response that included the blockage of drainage culverts that connected the cove to the main body of Lake Conway. Earthen dikes, gravel and plywood were used to keep the water in the cove from spreading to the lake. However, even during the first few days following the spill, due to rain, water was pumped from the contaminated cove to the main body of Lake Conway to keep the cove from flooding homes or the highway.
The reporting done by these concerned citizens shows just how big of a predicament Exxon is in with their attempts to limit the spread of oil from the cove to the main body of the lake. It also should serve as proof that anyone claiming to say Lake Conway is not contaminated is either unaware of what happened here Wednesday night or is being intentionally creative with language to mislead the public about the damage this oil spill has caused.
It is worth-noting that this live, on-the-scene reporting of what this storm is doing to the oil spill only stopped because these reporters ran out of battery on their cell phone and a backup battery, which had been purchased with donations from viewers, was damaged during the rain. It was disappointing to lose the live feed right as they had arrived at the wetlands. I was left wondering what I was missing and what would happen if the storm had gotten worse.
I was also left wondering, where was the local and state media? Where are the professionals? Why is the only reporting from the scene of this oil spill during weather that threatens to severely contaminate the main body of Lake Conway being done by a couple volunteer journalists riding in the back of a pick up truck in the rain using an iPhone with limited battery?
Has Exxon's campaign of censorship and intimidation put such a fear in the media that they wouldn't risk trying to gain access during the storm? Is it just the weather that deterred them from venturing out in the rain? Or do these activist journalists simply care more about this story? Whatever the cause, I thank Jak and Lauren and the Tar Sands Blockade activists for being so devoted to this story and reporting tonight. I hope their work serves as inspiration to the local media to push the limits and do whatever it takes to stay on top of this story, whether Exxon wants them to or not.
If you'd like to support their reporting, they are taking donations to buy backup batteries and boots. Be sure to follow along on Twitter: @jak_nlauren and UStream, as well.
UPDATE II: I just had a conversation with Keith Stephens, Public Information Coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission about the pumping that took place Wednesday evening during the storm. Stephens confirmed that the pumping was done to prevent the cove water from spilling over the highway, but said he did not think there was any danger of the contaminated water flooding any homes along the cove. Most importantly, he confirmed there is NO filtering system in these pumps, so it is reasonable to conclude that whatever chemicals are in the cove can be transfered into the main body of the lake. To this point, he mentioned there was boom on both the cove-side and lake-side of the pump, which he believes is adequate to prevent any oil from being transfered into the main body of the lake. I brought up the concerns that the type of oil that is pumped through the Pegasus line behaves differently in water than conventional crude oil and that it can sink below the booms, which sit on the surface of the water, but I was left with the unsettling impression that Stephens did not know or believe this. Stephens was confident the part of the cove with the most oil was far enough away from the pumping, and behind two rows of boom, that it was not damaging the lake to pump this water. I suggested he look into the Enbridge oil spill on the Kalamazoo River oil spill for an example of how this type of dilbit oil sinks in water when the diluents have evaporated, thus rendering boom ineffective.
UPDATE: Their raw video is embedded below:
In this first clip, we see the reporters walking to the cove:
In this clip, you can see the pumps moving oil from the cove to the main body of Lake Conway.
In this clip, you see them travel in the back of a pickup truck (during the severe storm) to return to the wetlands:
And in this last clip prior to their battery running out, we see the flooded wetlands:
UPDATE III: Thankfully the worst of the storm system missed the site of the oil spill, but many homes and property were still destroyed by the tornados.
More on the Mayflower, Arkansas oil spill
Exxon pipeline breaks spilling 84,000 gallons of Canadian crude oil near Arkansas lake [UPDATED]
Are 'oiled' birds in Arkansas signs the Exxon oil spill has spread to Lake Conway? (UPDATED)
Exxon won't pay into cleanup fund because oil spilled in Arkansas isn't "oil"
Shocking aerial video shows magnitude of Arkansas oil spill, as cleanup continues and frustration at Exxon grows [VIDEOS]
As Exxon cleans oil spill in Arkansas, Shell pipeline spills 700 barrels in Houston
Exxon's Arkansas oil spill has reached Lake Conway, says Attorney General McDaniel
Mayflower, Arkansas "on lockdown" following Exxon oil spill
Arkansas oil spill could be almost 300,000 gallons, video shows alleged "dumping ground" in wetland (UPDATES)
MORE: See all of our Mayflower, Arkansas oil spill coverage here.