The cleanup efforts themselves took a sobering turn as crews found injured and dead ducks covered in oil.
The environmental impacts of an oil spill in central Arkansas began to come into focus Monday as officials said a couple of dead ducks and 10 live oily birds were found after an ExxonMobil Corp. pipeline ruptured last week.
“I’m an animal lover, a wildlife lover, as probably most of the people here are,” Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson told reporters. ”We don’t like to see that. No one does.”
Exxon has confirmed that the pipeline was carrying “low-quality Wabasca Heavy crude oil from Alberta.” This oil comes from the region of Alberta where the controversial tar sands are located. Heavy crude is strip mined or boiled loose from dense underground formations that often contain a large amount of bitumen. This oil is very thick and needs to be diluted with lighter fluids in order to flow through pipelines. Reports have stated that at least 12,000 barrels of oil and water spilled into the town.
A 1980 law ensures that diluted bitumen is not classified as oil, and companies transporting it in pipelines do not have to pay into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Other conventional crude producers pay 8 cents a barrel to ensure the fund has resources to help clean up some of the 54,000 barrels of pipeline oil that spilled 364 times last year.
As Oil Change International said in a statement today:
“The great irony of this tragic spill in Arkansas is that the transport of tar sands oil through pipelines in the US is exempt from payments into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Exxon, like all companies shipping toxic tar sands, doesn’t have to pay into the fund that will cover most of the clean up costs for the pipeline’s inevitable spills.”
Whatever you call it, as Judge Dodson says, “Crude oil is crude oil. None of it is real good to touch.”
The smell of the spilled oil (similar to asphalt) has reached residents five miles out in the country, and will likely keep residents of 22 nearby homes evacuated for several days.
The Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan happened in 2010 and parents are still concerned about the long-term health effects of having such toxic substances seep into areas where children play.
As commenter Zimzone rightly points out, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would indeed be carrying the type of heavy, corrosive diluted bitumen unconventional oil from the same region of Canada. It is unclear how many people who live along the path of KXL know that the roughly 575 barrels of oil per minute that could be passing through their neighborhoods wouldn’t be paying taxes to this cleanup fund. Exxon may have even less to worry about, as Alaska looks to lower its tax bill even further, while one state representative absolves the company of guilt for the Exxon Valdez spill.