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Boardman writes: "As the second week of toxic air in Mayflower begins, here are more of the questions this disaster raises and some of the current answers, subject to future refinement."

Workers cleaned up oil following a spill from Exxon's Pegasus pipeline near Mayflower, Ark., Monday. (photo: GreenPeace/Reuters)
Workers cleaned up oil following a spill from Exxon's Pegasus pipeline near Mayflower, Ark., Monday. (photo: GreenPeace/Reuters)


The Press and Public Are Contained

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

08 April 13

 

he first "Tar Sands Oil Arkansas" (published April 7) discussed a number of questions raised by the ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline that burst in Mayflower, Arkansas, on March 29, pumping tar sands oil Ð technically Wabasca Heavy crude oil Ð into a residential neighborhood for almost an hour.

Among the questions touched on in that piece were protecting the pipeline from terrorists, residents suing ExxonMobil in federal court, the nature of Wabasca Heavy tar sands oil, some effects of the spill, and the "martial law" atmosphere described by reporters trying to look at the cleanup site.

As the second week of toxic air in Mayflower begins, here are more of the questions this disaster raises and some of the current answers, subject to future refinement. A reader writes:

What is the point of origin of the leak? In front of whose house? Why no image of the hole in the ground or in the pipe? Was it corrosion, a weld failure, sabotage by cutting or explosives, or WHAT? Do we have to wait for NTSB for answers? Are ExxonMobil and their execs too big to jail?

The point of origin appears to be in the woods, behind the houses, and underground. The absence of images is unexplained.

Corrosion or weld failure seem to be two likely possibilities for the cause of the leak.

As reported so far, the spill started quietly, with no one aware of the moment it started. It's not clear how long it took for someone to become aware, but not too long, presumably.

The circumstances known so far make sabotage (or inadvertence) by cutting, explosion, backhoe, bulldozer, or other means seem unlikely.

Several of the press releases issued by the Mayflower Incident Unified Command Joint Information Center over the past several days conclude with the statement: "The cause of the spill is under investigation."

Since ExxonMobil and its employees have not yet been convicted of committing a crime, it seems premature to consider jailing them.

Why were the pipeline and the residential subdivision built so close together?

Close is a relative term. There's no suggestion so far that the subdivision was built illegally, or didn't have the right permits, or interfered with the pipeline right of way, or anything like that.

Interestingly, though, the Arkansas Times interviewed a former ExxonMobil pipeline worker who raised questions about the company's commitment to safety.

The report continued:

He raised, too, a question mentioned here yesterday by another pipeline engineer about the wisdom of building new subdivisions over existing pipelines, as happened in Mayflower.

Considering the potential stress of building on top of a pipeline and the high pressure used when transporting heavy crude,É the developer of Northwoods should have worked with Exxon to reroute Pegasus around the neighborhood.

Other options, he said, include replacing the section of the pipeline with newer, stronger steel or burying it deeper under the ground. But ... pipeline companies have little incentive to take costly preventive action.

Even if they get a fine the fine will be a small fraction of the cost to correct a dangerous condition, he said.

Who Is the Mayflower Incident Unified Command?

The command's letterhead includes the logos for ExxonMobil, Faulkner County, the U.S. Environmental Protection Service (EPA), and the City of Mayflower, Arkansas.

It has been hard for reporters on the scene to learn much more. Even CBS News had to stay outside the yellow tape.

Hasn't ExxonMobil been forthcoming with information and documentation relating to the Pegasus pipeline rupture?

Well, no, not really.

As a result, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has issued a subpoena for relevant documents from ExxonMobil. The deadline for complying with the subpoena is April 10, almost two weeks after the spill. ExxonMobil has said it will comply.

Why isn't ExxonMobil more open, since we give them subsidies and tax breaks worth billions of dollars every year?

Don't start with that. This is about Mayflower, Arkansas. You can read about the tax shelter and subsidy thing somewhere else, such as American Progress.

But ExxonMobil does have to pay into the federally mandated fund for oil spill cleanups, right?

Yes and no. It's the "no" part that matters here.

With the Pegasus pipeline pumping Wabasca Heavy tar sands oil, ExxonMobil is not required to pay anything into the oil spill cleanup fund. Not a penny. Why? Because tar sands oil, according to the law written by Congress and interpreted by our tax collectors, is not oil. So its pumpers are exempt from contributing to the cleanup fund.

If it were more traditional, lighter crude oil in the pipeline, someone would be paying 8 cents per barrel into the oil-spill liability trust fund.

Isn't tar sands oil like Wabasca Heavy more difficult and more expensive to clean up than lighter traditional oils?

Yes.

Doesn't that make a difference?

Apparently not to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which administers the cleanup fund. In a 2011 decision, the IRS exempted tar sands oil, diluted bitumen, dilbit fron the 8 cents tax per barrel (42 gallons).

Why doesn't Congress do something about that?

Seriously?

Seriously.

Congressman Ed Markey, D-Mass, has tried.

After a week, has the tar sands oil been contained?

Probably not.

Arkansas Online reported on March 29, the day of the spill, without indicating the source of the information, that "Oil that spilled into waterways from a ruptured pipeline in Mayflower has been contained."

The report continued:

Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson said blockades have been set up at two different locations along a waterway that flows into Lake Conway. Those blockades are preventing the contaminated water from passing.

A dam made of dirt, wood and other building materials has been erected in the initial ditch that contains a majority of the oil, with an additional blockade set up in two culverts connected to coves that allow water into Lake Conway.

The obstructions will prevent any oil from passing through for an extended period of time, possibly days, Dodson added.

If the oil was contained the first day, what's all the fuss about?

Early reports appear to have been overly optimistic.

There are more than 100 photographs on the web site for the EPA On Site Coordinator, from the period March 29-April 6. They show that the oil got into active waterways almost immediately on March 29. And at least some of the oil was also flowing on the ground and into the street, ending up going down a storm drain.

EPA image #78 shows "Sorbent boom in place at discharge point from neighborhood underneath Main Street" Ð four days after the spill, on April 2.

EPA image #90 shows "Containment boom installed in Lake Conway" on April 2.

Has tar sands oil reached Lake Conway or not?

ExxonMobil reportedly says it has not.

Grist.org reporter Suzi Parker says that Arkansas Attorney General McDaniel "reported Friday morning [April 5] that there is oil in Lake Conway despite ExxonMobil's assurances to the contrary."

The Grist report adds:

"Great efforts have been taken to limit the spread of the oil to only one area of Lake Conway, which is referred to as the Cove, but the Cove and Lake Conway are hydrologically connected and are therefore one body of water," Aaron Sadler, spokesman for McDaniel, told Grist.

Meanwhile, access to the site continues to be tightly policed. According to InsideClimate, ExxonMobil threatened reporter Lisa Song with arrest on Wednesday when she entered the command center looking for government officials.

So is it like martial law or a police state in Mayflower, or are these just more whiners and media frenzy whippers?

Hard to tell. Of course it could be both.

The restricted area is considerably smaller than the no-fly zone's 78 square miles.

It's not clear what happened to the press conference that was announced for April 6.

Here's the way the Arkansas Times saw it as of April 6:

Public accountability remains a pressing issue. The Faulkner County judge disclaimed responsibility in refusing an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette FOI request for county records related to cleanup activities. This is on top of police-state actions by Faulkner County officials to let Exxon Mobil set rules on public access to affected areas.

The secrecy is wrong. The delegation of authority to a private company is wrong. But Faulkner County officials are deeply in the thrall of the energy industry thanks to the Fayetteville shale play. Public interest takes a backseat.

But didn't Exxon Mobil just win a big time safety award?

Yes, indeed, it did.

The National Safety Council announced on April 3 that ExxonMobil had won the 2013 Green Cross for Safety, awarded at the annual fundraising dinner in Houston that night. The award was for ExxonMobile's "leadership and comprehensive commitment to safety excellence."

According to the National Safety Council press release:

ExxonMobil distinguished itself over a period of years for outstanding achievements in workplace safety, community service, environmental stewardship and responsible citizenship. It believes the best way to meet this commitment is through a capable, committed workforce as well as practices designed to enable safe, secure and environmentally responsible operations. ExxonMobil accomplishes this through clearly defined policies and practices, and with rigorously applied management systems designed to deliver expected results.

It remains steadfast in its goal that "Nobody Gets Hurt."

Past recipients of the Green Cross for Safety medal include the Dow Chemical Company, Schneider Electric North America, Exelon Nuclear, FirstGroup, Delta Air Lines, UPS, DuPont, Liberty Mutual Group, Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler, Kenny Construction Company, Ryder System Inc., Intel Corporation and AK Steel.



Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

 

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+68 # Walter J Smith 2013-04-08 07:55
I love those innocent questions from citizens who apparently have been asleep for all their lives, unless they are only, say, 19 years old.

"Isn't tar sands oil like Wabasca Heavy more difficult and more expensive to clean up than lighter traditional oils?

Yes.

Doesn't that make a difference?

Apparently not to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which administers the cleanup fund. In a 2011 decision, the IRS exempted tar sands oil, diluted bitumen, dilbit fron the 8 cents tax per barrel (42 gallons).

Why doesn't Congress do something about that?

It cannot be said often enough or loudly enough: the bipartisan majority in the US Congress, both houses, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street; and Big Oil is a major principle in Wall Street.

Additionally, we haven't had a president in over three decades who had enough intelligence or enough courage, much less the combination of the two needed to hold either Big Oil, or any other principle on Wall Street accountable.

Face it folks. Both major political parties have majority leadership corruptions the net result of which is there is no longer any such thing in Washington, D. C., as a viable concept such as "the public interest."

Don't take my word for it. Do your own civic homework.
 
 
+25 # wwway 2013-04-08 08:23
In recent times the media decided that it wouldn't spend money on investigative efforts and replace reporting with extemporaneous comentary that missleads the public. They make stuff up, and never ask good questions. If this is the way it's going to be, should the press be surprised at being locked out? If Americans continue to demand entertainment in the form of news how are reporters supposed to present anything resembling real news?
Folks don't want to listen to the truth. They just want to be scared to death. If you can make stuff up why make the effort to investigate?
I'm not defending the corporations and their hold on the government. Citizens and consumers of cheap news and information have decidedly defended those corporations and their bought politicians who can now do whatever they want and you can't ask questions.
 
 
+10 # WBoardman 2013-04-08 14:07
The media are many different things,
and the mainstream media don't appear to have
made much effort to cover this story
through wire service and press releases.

The CBS reporter had no complaint about
not being allowed to do his job.

The reporters complaining (that I'm aware of)
were all angry to have authorities interfere
with First Amendment rights,
without even a fake justification it seems.

These independents were trying to report the story,
which is what serious news people used to do
before they became highly paid "journalists"
 
 
+18 # dick 2013-04-08 08:55
May God rain down tar sands non-oil on red states for 40 days & nights. Not a single taxpayer penny for clean-up. Maybe Clem & Bubba were trying to break into the pipe to get fuel for their pickup.
Pipeliners who raise safety issues get blacklisted. WHY do T-Partyers & other UnDead oldsters coddle global oil corps? We need 15,000 tax dodging execs in prison, & NOT Club Fed.
WAIT! Did assault rifles prevent this assault on Arkansans? Too bad. Boo hoo. Can people BE any more stupid? Okies?
 
 
+8 # mdhome 2013-04-08 12:42
If the 2nd amendmenters wanted to improve the country, they would be using their assault rifles on the corporations that are killing off the country, one oil spill or one toxic chemical fracking at a time. They are the ones stripping the taxpayers of their hard earned dollars.
 
 
+25 # DRPJJ 2013-04-08 09:20
The answer, obviously, is in the headline. The press and public are CONTAINED. That the information has even reached us is astonishing, and certainly not something to make public before O has an "opportunity" to sign into law the XL pipeline, which leaves us just as vulnerable everywhere that snaking beast is allowed to travel. Whom are we kidding? The tar sands oil isn't even a product we need or want, except to ship overseas. The fact that we are jeopardizing our heartlands, and neighborhoods means nothing as long as the "bottom line" of those in charge is being served. O has already shown he is the two faced clown that tells us/the public what we need to hear, and then does exactly what his egregiously rich cohorts tell him to do. Even his public statements are nothing but grandstanding, since the end result will be for the benefit of the 1% and those that believe that as long as the crooks are in charge, they too, might make it into that regal realm, proof notwithstanding .Only the super rich benefit, and the rest are hangers-on wannabes. Annihilation of the populace, including those whose lives and property are destroyed by these "accidents," only helps "cleanse" the world of that overabundance of humanity, so those remaining can enjoy the fruits of their carnage.
 
 
+18 # Beverly 2013-04-08 09:38
Secretive, AS USUAL!!! You MUST REVEAL THE TRUTH TO US, THE CITIZENS OF THIS STATE AND COUNTRY!!! This land and country does NOT BELONG TO THE OIL COMPANIES, although they certainly have TAKEN OVER A WHOLE LOT OF IT AS THEIR OWN!!!
I have one word for all of this - S T O P !!!!
Disgusted and deeply disappointed,
Beverly Smith
 
 
+14 # DaveM 2013-04-08 09:39
A fair amount of oil has undoubtedly soaked into the ground around the area of the spill, contaminating the soil, possibly to a great depth. Will that be cleaned up? How? Until it is, the homes shown in the vicinity of the spill will be located on a toxic waste site.
 
 
+11 # mdhome 2013-04-08 12:46
And the secret chemicals used to make it possible to pump that stuff through a pipeline, where are those ingredients going to end up?
 
 
+19 # fredboy 2013-04-08 09:51
There is no more "press." It went from watchdog to sheepdog when idiots introduced "community journalism" and even teamed with advertisers to control content. Now the entire press is nestled in its own dark, dank corner of hell. Totally worthless, completely undependable. And I am a former journalist!
 
 
+8 # tbcrawford 2013-04-08 11:49
Please, Fred, don't through out the baby with the bathwater; better to applaud and fund Frontline, Democracy Now and the many dedicated reporters including Greg Pallast who soldier on against all odds and all lies. You must do better to claim the title of "journalist", please!
 
 
+4 # mdhome 2013-04-08 12:47
Seems like a good time to re-enter the business.
 
 
+17 # cafetomo 2013-04-08 10:05
The usual corrosive sarcasm does not begin to do this situation justice. Fortunately, Mr. Boardman does.

The Green Cross for Safety medal is clearly designed to counteract bad behavior with good publicity. Every big oil accident from the gulf to Alaska has been given much the same whitewash.
 
 
+10 # HerbR 2013-04-08 11:36
The unspeakable must be talked about everywhere that people gather !!
 
 
+9 # j.a.o 2013-04-08 12:53
If those poor ppeople want to sell their houses, they will get NOTHING for it. Those poor people just lost so much. Will Exxon Mobil pay them for their houses and moving? I doubt it. And we believe that these people are on top of the fracking too? Yeah right.
 
 
+6 # da gaf 2013-04-08 14:24
the big criminal oil corporations are better known as "the filthy big oil dragons"...nobo dy messes with these monsters...and gets away with it.. ..period!
 
 
+7 # Willman 2013-04-08 16:22
The large multi national oil companies have brought many "regime changes" to countries around the world in the name of petrochemicals.
Does anyone think Mayflower residents stand a chance?
 
 
+1 # fredboy 2013-04-09 17:43
TBCrawford, the old journalist still has fight. Right now trying to expose the wrongs that are destroying Florida's waters--rampant , careless dumping of countless tons of fertilizer on the land, flowing into our waters. But my point is the "mainstream" media just seems to echo its favorite political flavor here--real difficult pushing the truth into the spotlight.

You are right about Frontline--a magnificent investigative engine of truth.
 
 
+3 # cprsource 2013-04-10 08:11
The major problem here is the use of the Incident Command system in a way that its developers never imagined. I saw this, while working for a government agency during the gulf oil spill. The system brings together agencies to more effectively respond to disaster. It was never intended to include private companies, much less those responsible for the disaster as part of ICS. Because they are paying the bill, the company puts their executives in key roles, usurping government authority and managing to push their agenda with the force of government authority. The approach is much like having a burglar in charge of investigating his own crime. We must move away from oil companies being in charge when disaster happens.
 
 
0 # ghostperson 2013-04-11 20:49
Shades of the Pinkertons and American Legion both of which were formed and hired to do plutocrats' bidding against the masses be it comprised of laborers or veterans demanding bonuses promised for participation in WWI. History isn't linear. It is circular--Yogi Berra's deja vu all over again.
 

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