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Spilled tar-sands oil could be creeping toward the Arkansas River

Dead vegetation in Lake Conway
Tar Sands Blockade
Dead vegetation in Lake Conway, which flows into the Arkansas River, a tributary of the Mississippi.

Rocker Neil Young wanted to see for himself the damage from ExxonMobil's ruptured Pegasus oil pipeline, which recently spewed reeking, black goo into small-town Mayflower, Ark. So Young, a stalwart environmentalist, drove his revamped, super fuel-efficient hybrid 1959 Lincoln Continental into Mayflower on Monday, unannounced.

A few people snapped pictures with Young (local blogger Shelli Russell bumped into a telephone pole while chasing him down). But regardless of how cool his car is, it’s unlikely the famous singer got into the Northwoods neighborhood, where the pipeline ruptured. Round-the-clock security patrolmen still have the place tightly guarded for ExxonMobil, as they have from the beginning of the spill when it seemed the town was under martial law.

On his brief journey, Young undoubtedly saw crews without respirators working in an area locals call the Cove. They are hard to miss. The Cove -- along with nearby Lake Conway, a popular fishing and boating spot -- has become a point of contention in Mayflower.

ExxonMobil has insisted that it stopped the oil from seeping from the Cove into Lake Conway. But Mayflower residents and environmental activists say they smell something fishy, and it’s not in the lake. It is a scheme by ExxonMobil to make everything look copacetic, when in fact it is not. Considering what we now know about how BP handled the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that wouldn’t be surprising.

And one oil spill specialist isn’t taking ExxonMobil’s word. He says there's crude in the lake, and he has the tests to prove it.

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Using aging, retrofitted pipelines to ship oil — what could go wrong?

leak-oil-pipeline-featured
Shutterstock

Until the Pegasus pipeline ruptured on March 29, leaking an estimated 147,000 to 210,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into the town of Mayflower, Ark., few Arkansans knew it was even there.

In fact, thousands of miles of pipelines snake through the heart of the United States. Proponents insist that pipelines are the safest way to transport oil -- safer than trucks or trains or tankers. Yet, in recent years, the Yellowstone River spill in Montana, the Kalamazoo River spill in Marshall, Mich., and now the Mayflower spill have alerted Americans to the dirty dangers that lurk underneath the country.

There are 175,000 miles of onshore and offshore “Hazardous Liquid” pipelines pumping petroleum and its byproducts across the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which oversees all pipelines. From 1990 to 2011, more than 110 million gallons of mostly crude oil and petroleum products spilled from these pipelines, many of which now carry chemicals that are much different than those for which they were designed.

Most of these spills go unreported by the press, but activists hope that the sight of black crude oozing through a subdivision of $200,000 brick homes in Mayflower, a town of 2,200 about 25 miles north of Little Rock, will spark the public’s ire, driving change on both the local and national levels.

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Arkansas town in lockdown after oil spill nightmare

arkansas-oil-spill-cleanup-hazard-workers-neighborhood-suburbs-small
REUTERS / Jacob Slaton

There’s one Exxon gas station in Mayflower, Ark.

Before last Friday, that’s likely as close as Mayflower residents got to the multinational oil and gas behemoth ExxonMobil. But after the Pegasus Pipeline burst last Friday, sending thousands of gallons of tar-sands oil into the Northwoods neighborhood, the company became omnipresent in this small town of 2,200 people.

The first thing you notice when driving into Mayflower is the stench. Travelers can smell the fumes from Interstate 40, which runs through the town. Within town limits, the smell is putrid: Imagine wet asphalt on a hot summer’s day -- times 10,000. At the local Harp’s grocery, something less than half a mile from the spill, the stink makes your eyes water and your nose burn.

But the reek is only a hint at ExxonMobil’s presence here. Since thick black sludge first began oozing across backyards and into the streets, surprising many residents who say they didn’t even realize the pipeline was there, the company has instituted something like martial law.

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Some farmers’ markets aren’t as local as you think

Kathy Webb stands in front of a group of 20 people in the dining room of her Asian restaurant, talking about locally grown food. As she describes how nearly all the ingredients in the five-course dinner she's about to serve -- from the tomatoes and herbs in the salad to the berries in the dessert -- are from Arkansas, she educates her listeners while whetting their appetites. Webb, a newly elected state legislator and owner of Lilly's Dim Sum, Then Some in Little Rock, says a connection to food is something Americans have lacked over the last several decades. "When …

Read more: Food

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How poultry producers are ravaging the rural South

A person driving through the South might notice the chicken houses dotting the hills and flatlands. He might marvel at the larger ones, as long as a football field. He might react to their gagging stench for a moment, and then forget as he travels on. But those who live near the structures -- stuffed with as many as 25,000 chickens each -- combat the odor and health hazards daily. Not yer pappy's chicken coop. Photo: USDA. "There's a horrible odor, a stench, and I have flies and rodents digging in, trying to get into my house," says Bernadine Edwards, …

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Task force takes aim at NEPA, freaks out environmentalists

Rep. Richard Pombo meets the press in April. Photo: U.S. House of Representatives. You have to want to get to Nacogdoches, a Texas town that's not on the way to anywhere. This eastern outpost, nearly 150 miles from Houston, is the oldest town in the state, with enough lore to fill volumes. It's the site where, in the 1700s, the legendary Father Margil struck a rock twice during a drought and water flowed. In 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated overhead. And in late July, the town served as the perfect out-of-the-way location to host a congressional hearing on the …

Read more: Politics