Update on Mayflower Oil Spill: Chemist finds benzene, AG investigates, residents organize

Exxon oil spill workers by Subway restaurant photo
© Tar Sands Blockade

Earlier this week, I wrote about the ongoing debate in Mayflower, Arkansas as to whether oil from Exxon Mobil's Pegasus pipeline oil spill has reached Lake Conway. Independent tests have found contaminents associated with tar sands oil in the lake, while Exxon is sticking to their claim that the lake is oil-free. Now THV11 reports that chemist Wilma Subra has found the cancer-causing chemical Benzene in the air and water around Lake Conway.

"There's a population all around that's been made very, very sick by the emissions," Subra said.
John Hammons lives near an area known as "The Cove," a body of water sitting across from Lake Conway in Mayflower.
"We can smell it. So I know it's there," Hammons said, who is concerned about his three children and wife, who is seven months pregnant.

"She's broken out in hives, had nose bleeds, (and) respiratory problems," he explained.

For more on how oil spills can cause health problems, read this excellent piece in Newsweek on how BP lied about the risks associated with the Gulf oil spill. I think this should concern Arkansans that they too are also being misled by Exxon.

While it is clear the oil spill is causing health problems, another important question to answer is how badly has this oil spill damaged the environment? That is a question that may not be answered soon enough if the two Arkansas agencies don't act fast. Maria Gallucci at InsideClimate News reports on how the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission are in charge of surveying the damage caused by this major oil spill, but have no experience doing so. To make matters worse, they are dragging their feet, with plans to begin a damage assessment in "a the next few weeks," which will make it more difficult:

Collecting data on oil-damaged areas is critical in the first days after a spill because the oil is still visible, said Jeffrey Short, a scientist at Oceana, a conservation organization.

"You lose information at an exponential rate after an incident occurs" as oil settles and is absorbed in the surrounding ecosystem, said Short, who worked for 31 years as a NOAA research chemist. For much of that time he was involved in damage assessment for the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Not long after the oil spills, "there's a blackout period where things are happening in the environment and you can't see them," he said.

Also in InsideClimate News, Lisa Song has a good interview with Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel about his investigation into the cause of the spill:

ICN: What are the key questions you're trying to answer?

McDaniel: Some of the basics, [such as] what happened? Here we are, 22 days post-event, and we still don't have even an indication of what caused this rupture. I've seen a photo of the rupture, and it's a 22-foot long, perfectly symmetrical linear rupture. So we know it's not a jagged edge, it's not something caused by the digging of heavy equipment. So what were the pressure readings? What are the concerns there?

This thing was built in 1948. Have there been other stretches of pipeline built that year by the same manufacturer? There was a manufacturer somewhere post-World War II that was churning out pipe to be used in the new underground infrastructure. Have there been any other problems with the same type of material by the same manufacturer anywhere else? In other words, did they [Exxon] have any reason to go look at this stretch before it [ruptured]?

It would seem to me that people in the pipeline business know there are probably four or five primary causes of ruptures, and I would think that you could narrow those down pretty quickly. I think they [ExxonMobil] already know what the most likely cause is, even if they can't say 100 percent until they get their analysis done. So I'm trying to push for greater transparency, greater disclosures in a more rapid sequence.

Read the rest, in particular his comments about the timeline of what Exxon knew about the leak and when. As InsideClimate News has reported, there are discrepancies in the timeline, suggesting that Exxon knew there was a problem with the pipeline long before they publicly admit.

Suzi Parker, a Little Rock-based journalist, writes at Grist about the concerns over oil reaching Lake Conway and potentially into the Arkansas River:

Genieve Long, who has lived on the banks of the Cove for 28 years, says she told Smith where to take samples because certain creeks that connect to the lake — and ultimately the Arkansas River — have flooded from torrential spring rains.

“I feel like there is a cover-up,” Long says. “I walk onto my front porch and I see the lake and I have seen the oil sheen that flows past.”

ThinkProgress notes that Exxon earned $9.5 billion in the first quarter of 2013, compared to $9.45 billion last year.

$9.5 billion!

Something about that makes the $10,000 and two months of free landscaping for Arkansans that had a river of oil flowing through their yard seem a bit small. Recall that Exxon also doesn't have to pay into a federal clean-up fund because of a loophole in how diluted bitumen is not classified as oil.

To show how much they care, Exxon Mobil produced this short "We're sorry!" video to tout their clean-up efforts.

Comments are, of course, disabled since I imagine some of the many affected Mayflower residents may have a few things to say about this bit of propaganda.

Andrew Revkin had a good video chat with InsideClimate News publisher David Sassoon, editor Susan White and reporter Lisa Song. They talk about the expansion and risks of America's oil pipelines, diluted bitumen and what regulations are needed.

Exxon says 205 animals died as a result of the spill.

Some Mayflower residents traveled to Nebraska to speak out in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

More videos here.

A group of Mayflower residents are organizing a "STAND WITH MAYFLOWER: NO ON KEYSTONE XL" protest. Details at the Mayflower Oil Spill Facebook Page.

They've also started another Facebook page called The Mayflower Oil Spill Diaries to collect first-hand accounts from Mayflower residents of their health problems caused by the oil spill.

RisingUP Trailer from Global Access Media on Vimeo.

One of my concerns when this oil spill occurred was that it would not receive enough media attention because it was not as high-profile of a disaster as the Gulf oil spill. According to the Mayflower Oil Spill Facebook page, the filmmakers behind Rising Up, the story of BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been shooting in Mayflower for what may become a new film on the Arkansas spill (trailer above). Hopefully they can help bring even more attention to this disaster and the threat of oil pipelines.

Another visitor to Mayflower that caught the eyes of locals was Neil Young. He was spotted driving his LinkVolt, an efficient Lincoln convertible hybrid through town trying to see the damage caused by the oil spill.

For all of my coverage on the Arkansas oil spill, see the links below.

More on the Mayflower, Arkansas oil spill
Contaminated water pumped into Lake Conway
Latest in Exxon oil spill reveals AG hired firm with oil industry ties
Exxon pipeline rupture is 22 feet long, indicating immense pressure, possible criminal negligence.
As Exxon censors local media, citizen journalists document Arkansas oil spill. Can the pros be doing more?
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)

Update on Mayflower Oil Spill: Chemist finds benzene, AG investigates, residents organize
It has now been five weeks since the Exxon Mobil Pegasus pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas. Here's an update on the latest reports.

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