Mayflower Oil Spill Seven Months Later

by: EJ on 11/15/2013
Posted in: Climate Change

In October, when I realized my travels would take me to close to Mayflower, Arkansas, I decided to visit.  It added an element of pilgrimage to my trip and I had a desire to bear witness to the spill.  I wanted to see the street that had horrified me in the video with diluted bitumen (dilbit) from the Canadian tar sands running into the storm drain in a suburban neighbourhood. I wanted to stand in that place and imagine "What if this was Vancouver?" Through the wonders of Twitter, I was able to connect with journalists Katherine Bagley and Elizabeth Douglass from Inside Climate News at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference.  Both worked on the Mayflower spill.



I arrived in Mayflower at lunchtime and hit the local cafe.  As luck would have it, seated at the table next to me was a work crew and the Fire Chief.  After the work crew left, I approached the fire chief and asked if I could join him.  Conversation turned to the spill.  I asked how prepared he had been, mentioning that in B.C. all marinas have a spill response kit.  "I had a piece of plywood and 17 truck loads of gravel," he replied.

Exxon pipeline marker in Mayflower AR

Pipeline markers in the forest behind the houses.

Here are some photos of how Mayflower looks today. In the forest behind the houses, the pipeline markers show the location of the buried pipe.  The interesting thing about the Northwoods subdivision is that it is a very small housing development in a very small town.  There are four streets in the development and it is the only modern housing development in town. It looked like to would have been considered one of the nicer places to live in Mayflower. 





Two of the homes that were flooded by oil had to be demolished to clean up the oil.  According to a post from Inside Climate News from November 12th, Exxon has purchased 20 homes in the subdivision, which is about one third of the houses, and plans to demolish one more.

My lunch with the Fire Chief ended when he told me he had to head out to supervise the lifting of the foundations.  When I drove past in my car, the excavators were digging up the concrete while being sprayed with water to control the dust.









Mayflower AR2

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The drain at the end of the street leads into a water system which runs past the school, under the highway and into the nearby lake.  That's where the Fire Chief used his plywood and gravel. He fashioned a makeshift plug to stop the oil from flowing from North Cove into the larger lake.








And at the entrance to town, the only gas station available is still in business. Exxon.


Exxon is currently facing a federal law suit and at least $1.7 million in federal fines for the tar sands dilbit spill. According to this post on Desmog Blog that went up at the time I was in Mayflower, residents managed to fast track their law suit against Exxon, only to be delayed again by the government shut down.

Inside Climate News continues to investigate this story, long after other media outlets have moved on. On November 14th, Elizabeth Douglass reported that Exxon has received a 12-page Notice of Probable Violation and Proposed Compliance Order.  It said Exxon was "selectively using" risk assessment results which caused them to underestimate the vulnerability of the pipe that passed through Mayflower. It recommends a civil penalty of $2 659 200.  

No one wants a toxic oil spill in their community.  That is why we have to continue at work together to prevent the shipment of tar sands oil in any direction - east, west, north or south.  Tomorrow you can defend our climate and defend our communities.  Gabriolians meet at the village 12:00.  Other places in Canada, you can find the event closest to you here. Let's work together to "build a united wall of opposition to pipelines, reckless tar sands expansion and runaway climate change."

As activist Dan Lewis of Clayoquot Action said recently, "Believe in the inconceivable.  Just because you can't see the path from here to there does not mean it does not exist."


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