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Mayflower: 1st ExxonMobil Tar Sands Pipeline Spill, Now Deadly Tornado Destroys Arkansas Town

6:53 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

 

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

On March 29, 2013, ExxonMobil‘s Pegasus tar sands pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) pouring down the town’s streets.

Now, just over a year after the massive spill, devastation has come to Mayflower and neighboring towns again, this time in the form of a lethal tornado. On the evening of April 27, the twister destroyed huge pockets of the town of just over 2,300 citizens in a wholesale manner, with 14 confirmed dead and likely many more still not counted.

“Sadly, we don’t expect it to stay at 14,” tweeted Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe. At least 10 died in Faulkner County alone, which houses Mayflower, according to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock has given the tornado that hit Mayflower an EF-3 rating on a preliminary basis. EF3 (the highest rating is anEF5) equates to 136–165 mile per hour winds and KATV weatherman Todd Yakoubian tweeted that National Weather Service will have its final rating in by April 30.

On the whole, Arkansas Geographic Information Office has reported that 3,200 addresses in Faulkner County have had various levels of impact.

Fate of Pegasus Pipeline Spill Neighborhoods

According to Mayflower resident Genieve Long, the iconic Mayflower Pegasus pipeline spill cul-de-sac where oil flowed through residents’ backyards and into the streets, was spared.

But the RVs located by the cove connected to Lake Conway — where tar sands oil spilled in the aftermath of the ExxonMobil pipeline rupture and became a key part of an ongoing class action lawsuit — were not so lucky.

Just before she was forced to shower at a truck stop because there is currently no water or electricity in Mayflower, Long told DeSmogBlog “the RVs located along the cove were all taken out.”

A picture tracked down on Twitter by DeSmogBlog testifies to this damage.

Oil and Gas Infrastructure Damage

Soon after the tornado touched ground, gas utilities giant CenterPoint Energyreported gas leaks out of its infrastructure in the area.

“Our company technicians worked primarily in Mayflower and Vilonia to secure nearly 100 natural gas leaks caused primarily by uprooted trees,” Greg Strickland, CenterPoint’s manager in the area said in a press release. “Today we will continue to perform leak surveys in the area to ensure the safety of our customers and our distribution system.”

Another gas utilities giant, Entergy, also reported major infrastructure damage in the area.

“[The] Mayflower 500kv high voltage yard…no longer [has] any switches or breakers left after tornado’s path of destruction,” Entergy wrote on Facebook.

Entergy also explained that “There are lines and poles scattered everywhere in the path of [the] tornado.”

Climate Change Connection? Sort Of

How about climate change? Was this gargantuan tornado tied to climate change in any way, shape or form?

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Firm with History of Spill Cover-Ups Hired to Clean Up North Dakota Oil Spill

3:54 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Tesoro Logistics — the company whose pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of fracked Bakken Shale oil in rural North Dakota in September — has hired infamous contractor Witt O’Brien’s to oversee its clean-up of the biggest fracked oil spill in U.S. history.

The oil was obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale basin.

As revealed after ExxonMobil hired the same firm in the aftermath of a 210,000-gallon tar sands oil spill in April 2013, Witt O’Brien’s —formerly known as OOPS, Inc. — is a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups dating back to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It also oversaw the spraying of toxic oil dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico during BP’s summer 2010 mega-spill and a literal cover-up of Enbridge’s massive “dilbit disaster” tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan.

Witt O’Brien’s also won a $300,000 contract to develop an emergency response plan for TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline in August 2008.

The same firm is now maintaining Tesoro’s website dedicated to offering updates — also known as crisis communications management — for the massive spill’s recovery efforts at TesoroAlert.com.

Buried at the bottom of the website is a mention that the site is “powered by the PIER System.” PIER — short for “Public Information Emergency Response” — is owned by Witt O’Brien’s.

PIER in a Nutshell

A glance at PIER’s website suggests it is much more focused on image clean-up than it is on actually cleaning up oil spills.

“We believe that responding effectively and communicating your efforts are two sides of the same coin,” explains Witt O’Brien’s website. “And since others will be telling your story, from the professional media to citizen reporters with camera phones, you must be prepared and ready to respond.”

“PIER™ (Public Information Emergency Response) provides flexible solutions for handling internal and external communications, making it easier to deliver messages, streamline processes, automate tasks, and prevent inaccuracy during routine events, minor incidents, and major catastrophes.”

Brad Johnson, at the time a writer for Think Progress, explained BP used PIER for “media and public information management” during the 2010 Gulf oil spill disaster.

Winter Whitewash in the Works?

In a November 1 DeSmogBlog article covering the North Dakota fracked oil spill, Kris Roberts, environmental response team leader for the North Dakota Department of Health’s Division of Water Quality, said his department would be “putting [the oil] to bed for the winter” in an interview.

“We’ll continue to recover any free oil, but essentially because winter is days away if not already there, they’re basically just putting it back to bed, ensuring it’s properly contained and monitored,” Roberts said.

“They will hopefully get some natural remediation over the winter below the frost zone when the indigenous bacteria start flourishing, that’ll probably help a little bit cleaning up. But for the most part, everything is pretty much on hold and active remediation is going to be on hold until next spring.”

In the midwest, winter has arrived. The question remains: will the massive amount of snow allow for a literal and figurative whitewash by Tesoro — working with Witt O’Brien’s — of the largest fracked oil spill in U.S. history?

Two Major Lawsuits Filed Against ExxonMobil for Arkansas Tar Sands Spill

11:40 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

GPTS Lockdown

Protesters locked down at a Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance action.

Two major lawsuits were recently filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas against ExxonMobil, the “private empire” behind the March 2013Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill of over 1.1 million gallons of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) into the neighborhoods and waterways of Mayflower, AR, located in Faulkner County.

One is a class-action lawsuit filed by the Duncan Firm, Thrash Law Firm and Parker Waichman LLP on June 27. The other is a suit filed on June 13 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in concert with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, led by AG Dustin McDaniel.

Collectively, both lawsuits lay out the damning facts of the second biggest tar sands pipeline spill in U.S. history, caused by a 22-foot gash in the pipeline, second only to Enbridge’s “dilbit disaster” in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The cases also call for the spill’s victims – both people, government bodies and the ecosystem – to receive reparations.

Among other things, both suits clarify that ExxonMobil Pipeline Company dilbit has contaminated Lake Conway, the largest man-made game and fish commission lake in the United States, which serves as a tributary of the Arkansas River.

The class-action tort lawsuit slaps ExxonMobil with willful negligence under Arkansas state law, alleging Exxon knew Pegasus – built in the 1940′s far before the age of “extreme energy” and designed to carry light crude – would spill at some point. The suit also reveals for the first time that the spill was just the biggest of 13 other spills preceding it, meaning it was not just a spill out of the blue.

The joint EPA/Arkansas AG civil lawsuit cites Exxon for violating the Clean Water Act, Arkansas’ Hazardous Waste Management Act and Arkansas’ Water and Air Pollution Control Act.

Taken together, both suits keep the heat on ExxonMobil and on Alberta tar sandsproduction at-large as the battle over the proposed northern half of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline heats up. U.S. President Barack Obama’s State Department is expected to make a decision on that pipeline’s fate in the next few months.

Class-Action Tort Lawsuit Lays Out Ecological Costs of Exxon’s Negligence

Arkansas’ class-action suit legally covers “all real property owners who have…property abutting Lake Conway…which has been physically contaminated and polluted by ExxonMobil’s toxic and dangerous Tar Sands released from ExxonMobil’s unsafe and deficient oil and gas pipeline.”

A major crux of the suit is that dilbit is more corrosive to pipelines than conventional crude, a fact ExxonMobil knew but allegedly disregarded for the sake of profit when proposing Pegasus’ flow reversal.

“Bitumen blends are more acidic, thick and sulfuric than conventional crude oil,” explains the suit. “[B]itumen contains 15 to 20 times higher acid concentrations than conventional crudes and five to ten times as much sulfur. Bitumen blends are 70 times more viscous…than conventional crudes. Additional sulfur, acid and viscosity in the bitumen leads to weakening or embrittlement of pipelines.”

In 2006, Pegasus underwent a transformation from a 20-inch pipeline carrying conventional light crude from Texas up to the northern U.S. into a dilbit line carrying Alberta’s tar sands from Patoka, IL to Nederlands, TX for refining on the Gulf Coast. The pipe wasn’t built to carry tar sands crude and was only meant to carry a maximum of 95,000 barrels of light crude per day, the suit explains, a fact Exxon allegedly knew but proceeded with the tar sands project anyway.

Exhibit A: Enbridge attempted to team up with Exxon in a joint venture partnership that would entail replacing the pipeline. Exxon turned down the deal and instead increased tar sands carrying capacity through the antiquated line to a level surpassing the maximum limit for light crude, an example the class-action cites as willful negligence.

“ExxonMobil discarded this joint plan for a new, safer and larger pipeline to replace the sixty-seven year old…Pegasus Pipeline,” write the plaintiffs. “Instead, ExxonMobil, in order to increase its profits at the expense of public safety, made a deliberate corporate decision to increase…Pegasus Pipeline by 50% [in 2009], from 66,000 barrels per day to 99,000 barrels per day.”

Rather than responding to the spill honestly, ExxonMobil tried to cover the situation up through its “command center,” also running the Federal Aviation Administration’s “no fly zone” on the FAA’s behalf. Thus, the class-action lawsuit also sues Exxon for its response to the spill, in which deployment of crisis communications public relations tactics were favored over a legitimate all-out on-the-ground crisis spill response effort.

“After the [spill], [ExxonMobil] gave false, inconsistent and misleading factual assurances to the media and public…Exxon’s suppression, concealment and omission of material facts gave a false impression to the public that the Pipeline had only experienced a three inch gash…and there was no bitumen in the oil,” the lawsuit filing explains.

The ecological hazards of the spill, which the lawsuit says Exxon actively attempted to cover up in wholesale fashion, are nothing short of catastrophic.

“The hazardous materials being transported through Arkansas and which Mayflower citizens were exposed to are known to pose serious health effects, including lung damage if aspirated, skin cancer, irritant to eyes, mucous membranes and lungs, nausea, unconsciousness, loss of coordination, central nervous system depression, narcosis and death,” the suit states.

The “Lake Conway Class” seeks absolute liability, nuisance, and negligence tort charges for ExxonMobil, demanding a jury trial. They seek tort repayment for damages suffered above $75,000 for each category as individuals and tort repayment for damages suffered above $5 million as a group.

EPA/Arkansas Attorney General Civil Lawsuit

By comparison, the EPA/Arkansas AG civil lawsuit is much more straightforward, though it could end up with ExxonMobil doling out much more money at the end of the day. The two respective bureaucracies have demanded ExxonMobil pay fines for gross violations of bread-and-butter environmental laws, just as a citizen who got a ticket for speeding would have to pay a fine.

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Faulkner County: ExxonMobil’s “Sacrifice Zone” for Tar Sands Pipelines, Fracking

7:00 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Swamp with trees

A swamp in Faulkner County, Arkansas -- an area despoiled by fracking and a recent Exxon tar sands spill.

There are few better examples of a “sacrifice zone” for ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel industry at-large than Faulkner County, Arkansas and the counties surrounding it.

Six weeks have passed since a 22-foot gash in ExxonMobil’s Pegasus tar sands Pipeline spilled over 500,000 gallons of heavy crude into the quaint neighborhood of Mayflower, AR, a township with apopulation of roughly 2,300 people. The air remains hazardous to breathe in, it emits a putrid strench, and the water in Lake Conway is still rife with tar sands crude.

These facts are well known.

Less known is the fact that Faulkner County – within which Mayflower sits – is a major “sacrifice zone” for ExxonMobil not only for its pipeline infrastructure, but also for the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process. The Fayetteville Shale basin sits underneath Faulkner County.

ExxonMobil purchased XTO Energy for $41 billion in Dec. 2009 as a wholly-owned subsidiary. XTO owns 704,000 acres of land in 15 counties in Arkansas. Among them: Faulkner.

Private Empire” ExxonMobil is now the defendant in a class action lawsuit filed by the citizens of Mayflower claiming damages caused in their community by the ruptured Pegasus Pipeline. ExxonMobil’s XTO subsidiary was also the subject of a class action lawsuit concerning damages caused by fracking in May 2011 and another regarding fracking waste injection wells in Oct. 2012.

This isn’t the naturalist novelist William Faulkner’s Faulkner County, that’s for certain.

A Fracking Class-Action Lawsuit

In May 2011, James and Mindy Tucker filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Among the defendants was XTO.

“This action is being brought against the Defendants for the creation of a noxious and harmful nuissance, contamination, trespass and diminution of property values that the Gas Wells have caused and continue to cause,” explained the complaint. “This action seeks…injunctive relief in the form of monitoring of air quality, soil quality and water quality on Plaintiffs’ property…[and] to have their property monitored for the harmful effects of the Gas Wells owned and operated by the Defendants.”

Like many others, those living in the vicinity of the industry’s fracking wells saw their drinking water become contaminated and lost forever for consumption purposes. The complaint says the Plaintiffs noticed their water began to smell like “cotton poison.”

“After the water had acquired this smell, the Plaintiffs had to discontinue use of their water for normal household uses,” reads the complaint.

A subsequent well water test revealed massive levels of alpha-Methylstyrene, a flammable and poisonous chemical and a known component found within fracking fluid.

“Each of these suits asks for establishment of a fund for monitoring environmental contamination, a medical monitoring fund, $1 million in compensatory damages, and $5 million in punitive damages,” explains a press release from the law firm that brought the suit.

Epicenter of Fracking Wastewater Injection Earthquakes

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30 Toxic Chemicals at High Levels at Mayflower Exxon Tar Sands Spill

10:12 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

An independent study co-published by the Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group and Global Community Monitor reveals that, in the aftermath of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill of over 500,000 gallons of diluted bitumen (dilbit) into Mayflower, AR, air quality in the area surrounding the spill has been affected by high levels of cancer-causing chemicals.

Roughly four weeks after the spill took place, many basic details are still unknown to the public, according to recent reporting by InsideClimate News. Questions include what exactly caused the spill, how big was the spill exactly, and how long did it take for emergency responders to react to the spill, to name a few.

But one thing is certain according to the new study: For the residents of Mayflower, quality of life has been changed forever.

The chemicals found in the samples include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, n-hexane, and xylenes. Breathing in both ethylbenzene and benzene can cause cancer and reproductive effects, while breathing in n-hexane can damage the nervous system and usher in numbness in the extremities, muscular weakness, blurred vision, headaches, and fatigue.

All of these chemicals are hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), “regulated under the 1990 Federal Clean Air Act amendments as the most toxic of all known airborne chemicals,” as explained in the press release summarzing the study.

As covered here on DeSmog, the spill clean-up in Mayflower has more closely resembled PR image clean-up than on-the-ground clean-up, both because of the firm the AR Attorney General has hired to do spill clean-up assessment and because of the ongoing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) no-fly zone being run on behalf of the FAA by Exxon’s “Aviation Advisor,” Tom Suhrhoff.

Given the revalations in this latest study, Exxon has proven it has much to cover up, with this study only scratching the surface of the ecological harms of the pipeline spill.

“The spill and response has been a disservice to the community,” said Global Community Monitor’s Ruth Breech. “People are obviously suffering and experiencing health symptoms from chemical exposure related to the oil spill. State and Federal need to step up immediately to document and prevent any further health issues associated with the Exxon oil spill. Agencies need to share information in a manner to ensure informed decision making and enable access to necessary resources such as medical treatment for chemical exposure.”

With a decision looming on the future of the prospective TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline by the Obama Administration, Mayflower is yet another sordid case study of the hazards that accompany tar sands pipelines wherever they meander.

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Oops, Inc.: Firm with History of Cover-Ups Hired to Clean Up Arkansas Tar Sands Spill

5:50 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Arkansas’ Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has contracted out the “independent analysis of the cleanup” of the ExxonMobil Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill to Witt O’Brien’s, a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups, a DeSmogBlog investigation reveals.

At his April 10 press conference about the Mayflower spill response, AG McDaniel confirmed that Exxon had turned over 12,500 pages of documents to his office resulting from a subpoena related to Exxon’s response to the March 29 Pegasus disaster. A 22-foot gash in the 65-year-old pipeline spewed over 500,000 gallons of tar sands dilbit through the streets of Mayflower, AR.

McDaniel also provided the media with a presser explaining that his office had“retained the assistance of Witt O’Brien’s, a firm whose experts will immediately begin an independent analysis of the cleanup process.”

Witt O’Brien’s describes itself as a “global leader in preparedness, crisis management and disaster response and recovery with the depth of experience and capability to provide services across the crisis and disaster life cycle.”

But the firm’s actual performance record isn’t quite so glowing. O’Brien’s has had its hands in the botched clean-up efforts of almost every high-profile oil spill disaster in recent U.S. history, including the Exxon Valdez spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy.

Most troubling of all, Witt O’Brien’s won a “$300k+ contract to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project” in Aug. 2008.

Thus, if the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline inevitably suffered a major spill, Witt O’Brien’s would presumably handle the cleanup. That should worry everyone along the proposed KXL route.

From OOPS, Inc. to Witt O’Brien’s

In Dec. 2012, Witt Associates merged with O’Brien’s Response Management to form Witt O’Brien’s. The merger at-large is owned by Seacor Holdings.

O’Brien’s was formed in the early 1980s by Jim O’Brien – a former U.S. Coast Guard officer – as O’Brien Oil Pollution Service, otherwise known by OOPS, Inc. That’s not a joke, it was their actual name.

OOPs, Inc. was acquired by Seacor Holdings Inc. under the auspices of Seacor Environmental Services division in 1997, later renamed The O’Brien’s Group (TOG). TOG was later re-named O’Brien’s Response Management Inc. in Oct. 2008.

Importantly, in Dec. 2009, O’Brien’s acquired a powerful public relations spin machine wing, as its former website explains:

In December of 2009, O’Brien’s completed the successful acquisition of PIER (Public Information Emergency Response) Systems Inc., a crisis communications company that has developed the PIER software application, an all-in-one, web-based solution for communications management, public relations, media monitoring, employee notification, and business continuity.

Witt Associates, meanwhile, was founded by James Witt, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under President Bill Clinton who also served Gov. Clinton in Arkansas as head of the state’s Office of Emergency Services. He started Witt Associates upon leaving his Clinton Administration post.

Oil and Gas Industry Ties Run Deep at Witt O’Brien’s

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ExxonMobil Arkansas Tar Sands Pipeline Gash 22 Feet Long, Attorney General McDaniel Confirms

7:38 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Ruined wetlands in Arkansas

Oil-soaked wetlands in Mayflower, Arkansas.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDanielannounced today that ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline suffered a 22 foot long gash that led to the rupture that gushed up to 294,000 gallons of tar sands dilbit down the streets of Mayflower on March 29.

McDaniel revealed the news of the 22-foot gash at a press conference this afternoon and stated that – to the best of his knowledge – ExxonMobil had complied with the dictates of the initial subpoena for documents he issued on April 4.

That subpoena was issued in response to the March 29 rupture of Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline, a 20-inch tube carrying 95,000 barrels of tar sands crude per day – also known as diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” - from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas.

“We received 12,587 pages of documents, including more than 200 blueprint-sized diagrams. Our investigation is ongoing,” Aaron Sadler, Spokesman for McDaniel told DeSmogBlog.

The cause of the Pegasus gash is still unknown.

In February, the Tar Sands Blockade group revealed photographs that appear to indicate that TransCanada – which is now building the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas - may be laying poorly-welded pipe there.

Could it be a faulty or corroded weld that led to the gash in the 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline? Did it corrode due to its age or as a result of error on Exxon’s part?

The 12,587 pages of documents will hopefully have some answers.

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