Exxon Mobil's Pegasus pipeline ruptured March 29, spewing thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude throughout the town of Mayflower, Ark. The disaster has exposed the right-wing-Big Oil lie that 'oil pipelines are safe.' Cleanup efforts are ongoing, but perhaps now more than ever, activists are taking this opportunity to point to the Keystone XL project as a disaster waiting to happen.
The Pegasus pipeline was shut in late afternoon after the leak was discovered, but the damage was done. Exxon has no current estimate as to how much oil was released in the town, which lies about 22 miles northwest of Little Rock. 12,000 barrels of oil and water have so far been recovered, but the oil corporation has refused to reveal how much of that was crude, and how much was water. The spill forced the evacuation of 22 homes and soaked ducks and other birds in oil. At the time of the leak, the pipeline was transporting Canadian tarsands oil from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas.
There are several reasons why infuriated environmentalists have drawn links between this incident and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, but the most significant are as follows: Firstly, the leak happened just one day after a 15,000-gallon oil spill near Parkers Prairie, Minnesota. That oil spilled when the train carrying it derailed and three of its tankers burst. TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone project, used the disaster as an opportunity to push pipeline-delivered oil as a 'safe alternative' to railroad transportation. TransCanada president Alex Pourbaix had said, "If you're actually concerned about the environment ... you very much want to see [oil] moving by pipeline." Now, the Mayflower spill has rendered his reassuring words hollow; outrageous, even.
But if anything has vindicated anti-Keystone XL activists, who note that the entire project is marked by corruption and the risk of environmental destruction, it's the fact that the Pegasus pipeline happened to run right through the district of Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., a major Keystone XL supporter.
Tim Griffin's advocacy of construction on the Keystone pipeline might initially be confusing, as the pipeline's current route will omit the state of Arkansas. But Griffin was elected with a donation of $167,000 from the billionaire Koch brothers, who fully support all Keystone development. After all, the Flint Hills Refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas is owned by the Koch brothers, and having crude delivered there from Canada - as opposed to having it exported from overseas - will save them nearly $3 billion a year. That, of course, is where Keystone XL comes in, and explains why Griffin has become, as the Arkansas Times put it, a "Kochhead."
Nevertheless, activists are waiting to hear what Griffin will say now that a pipeline has ruptured in his own district. The congressman has so far tweeted, "On the scene in Mayflower, monitoring the oil spill. Will make sure all resources are made available for cleanup."
Falsely reassuring, to be sure, but the question remains: How will Griffin tout pipeline-transported tarsands oil going forward, when that very same crude has just decimated a town? And what will the public response be? So far, it has been anything but pro-pipeline. In response to Griffin's tweet, one commenter remarked, "Get used to oil spills if Keystone pipeline happens. Maybe Arkansas will change name to oil spill state." Another said, in relation to cleanup funding, "Ask David Koch to chip in, a**hole."
Danielle Droitsch, a member of the National Resources Defense Council, noted, "The spill in Arkansas illustrates the key point that we are not ready for a massive tarsands pipeline to go through America. The risk is much greater than any reward."
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune called the spill "another reminder that oil companies cannot be trusted to transport toxic tarsands crude through America's backyards, farmland, and watersheds."
One potential solution: Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt. has sponsored the Climate Protection Act and Sustainable Energy Act - comprehensive climate legislation, part of which would make fossil fuel companies pay for the pollution they inflict upon the environment. The legislation would enact a carbon fee of $20 per ton, rising by 5.6 percent annually over a ten-year period. The bills would also end taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called the two bills the "gold standard" for climate legislation. She said that she plans to move the legislation through her committee and to the Senate floor by the summer.
"No one who is serious about protecting the future of our planet and reversing global warming could support this pipeline project," said Sanders. "Tarsands oil is the dirtiest on Earth, and releases 82 percent more greenhouse emissions than conventional oil. The president must reject the Keystone XL project."
Now, as the oil-blackened town of Mayflower serves as a tragic example of the damage tarsands oil can cause, continuing outrage will certainly keep the pressure on President Obama to say "no" to Keystone XL.
Photo: The site of where oil leaked on March 29 in Mayflower, Arkansas. Part of the Pegasus pipeline ruptured, resulting in oil pouring into this stream (pictured), which leads to a lake. Alan English/AP & The Log Cabin Democrat