Following the ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, both ExxonMobil spokespeople and local officials have assured the public that the oil has not reached Lake Conway, which is near the source of the spill. Those claims should come under closer scrutiny as we're now seeing reports of many oil-soaked aquatic birds in the area.
The Hawk Center is an Arkansas wild animal rescue operation and they have been using their Facebook page to document some of the oil-soaked ducks that have been brought to their facility for cleaning.I spoke with Lynne Slater who works at the center and she said they have had oil-soaked birds arriving frequently and are expecting more. According to Slater, birds have been brought to the center by local residents, members of Exxon's own clean-up crew, as well as officers of Arkansas' Game and Fish Commission.
Slater's focus is on cleaning and rehabilitating these animals, so she would not speculate as to whether the birds are coming into contact with the oil at the spill site or if this means that the oil has reached Lake Conway or the adjacent cove.
However, this affected wildlife seem to indicate there may be more to the story than Exxon or local officials are letting on.
Are these ducks landing in the yards where the oil spill originated? Or are they landing in deeper water that has been contaminated by the oil?
Having seen the photos of the spill site and video of the cleanup operations with many workers and loud vacuum trucks and other machinery present, I have a hard time believing that these ducks are just flying in and landing in this oil as it is being cleaned. It's possible, sure, but as we see time and time again with any major oil spill, the initial reports and statements from the oil companies are often not accurate and there needs to be more inquiry into how far this spilled oil has spread.
I have called into Exxon and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission inquiring about where these birds are coming into contact with the oil and will update this story as I learn more.
If you'd like to help The Hawk Center in their recovery efforts, they are needing donations and volunteers, if you're local. Visit their Facebook page for more info on how you can help.
For more on the story, see our earlier report which contains more photos and local video.
UPDATE: I spoke with Kevin Stevens from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and he said they are still confident the oil has not reached Lake Conway. Stevens said he believes the birds are coming into contact with the oil at a ditch near the spill. Following the spill, responders contained the oil by damming a drainage ditch that would lead to the lake. Stevens believes that as weekend rain and oil mixed in these ditches ducks have landed in this contaminated water.
UPDATE II: A spokesperson for ExxonMobil responded to my inquiry about how and where these ducks where coming into contact with the oil and whether the spill had reached Lake Conway. Here is the full response I received via email:
Regarding your inquiry, the birds had landed on soiled areas.
Upstream Media Relations Advisor
UPDATE III: More ducks and a mammal were brought to The Hawk Center on Monday.
See all of our Mayflower, Arkansas oil spill coverage here.