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Arkansas pipeline leak worse than originally thought

16 April 2013

An Arkansas state attorney general has announced that the ExxonMobil pipeline rupture that has leaked thousands of barrels of oil at Mayflower, central Arkansas, is “substantially larger” than initially believed, but that the size of the leak is still unknown. Some 22 evacuated residents have yet to be told when they can return to their homes.

Cleanup crews have already recovered about 28,200 barrels of ‘oily water’ and 2,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris. The company has remained largely mute about the extent of the spill and a no-fly zone above the disaster area has largely restricted media access.

“The pipeline rupture is substantially larger than many of us initially thought,” State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel told reporters on April 10. McDaniel’s office has launched an investigation into the spill and has asked ExxonMobil to keep all documents relating to the spill and the cleanup efforts.

While members of the cleanup crew scour the empty streets in Hazmat suits, the bodies of oil-drenched wildlife continue to be recovered, and local residents complain of emerging health problems, many have already suspected that the damage may be greater than ExxonMobil claims.

“We still do not know how much oil was released. We still do not know the exact makeup of the crude itself, of the chemical solvents used in the transportation process,” McDaniel said.

“More documents will be received and requested from Exxon in coming days,” he added. “But now everyone’s priority continues to be the cleanup efforts in Mayflower.”

Lawyers and investigators are currently reviewing more than 12,500 pages of documents ExxonMobil submitted to McDaniel’s office. Included in these are inspection and maintenance records about the Pegasus pipeline, which has leaked tens of thousands of barrels of Canadian tar sands oil.

Earlier this week, the attorney general estimated that about 600 emergency responders were employed in the cleanup effort, but Exxon said the number was closer to 700. 

Exxon has already promised to compensate victims of the oil spill and has donated $15,000 to an elementary school in the region. 

But due to legal guidelines that fail to define diluted bitumen -- the substance that inundated Mayflower -- as oil, the corporation may not be required to contribute to the federal government’s oil spillage cleanup fund – making their donations pocket change in comparison to the cost of contributing to the cleanup fund.

Another development was then officials with an Arkansas water supplier approved a measure asking ExxonMobil for a plan to move an oil pipeline away from an area that drains into the main source of drinking water for Little Rock and several other communities.

ExxonMobil has said the March 29 spill didn't affect Mayflower's drinking water supply, which comes from a lake about 65 miles away and is managed by a different supplier.

On April 15, fifty-two feet of the Pegasus Pipeline in Mayflower was removed from the North Woods subdivision to a third party lab in Dallas for investigation. 

While the cause of the rupture will be determined by the lab, EPA Federal Scene Coordinator Nicolas Brescia said getting all the residents back in their homes could take several more weeks.

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