Arkansas Oil Spill Response a Keystone Cops Rerun

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It looks like Exxon’s response to the catastrophic rupture of its Pegasus Pipeline, which leaked as much as 294,000 gallons of dirty tar sands crude into the streets, gardens, canals, storm sewers, creeks and wetlands of Mayflower, Arkansas, is turning into another Keystone Cops rerun.

We’ve seen this episode before. A scathing government investigation into the devastating July 2010 oil spill near Marshall, Michigan found Enbridge, the Calgary-based company that owned the pipeline, handled their response like the “Keystone Cops.”

The spill began after the Enbridge pipeline ruptured and spilled almost one million gallons of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River, poisoning 35 miles of waterway, exposing 320 people to crude oil, and causing the most damaging onshore oil spill in US history. In its report, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said that the accident could have been avoided, and that Enbridge botched their response to the oil spill.

“When we were examining Enbridge’s poor handling to their response to this rupture you can’t help but think of the Keystone Cops,” said Deborah Hersman, the board chairperson, when the report was released.

Now, new evidence dug up by the award-winning Inside Climate News indicates that we may have another Keystone Cops episode in the making in Mayflower, Arkansas.

It’s unclear exactly what happened, but according to transcripts of 911 calls to the police, ExxonMobil, the company responsible for the accident, didn’t know the pipeline had ruptured – there was a 22-foot gash in the pipeline – until someone called to let them know there was oil running through people’s yards and down the street.

The first call, by a resident who said there was oil spilling through the neighbourhood, was made at 2:49 p.m. Contact was made with Exxon at 3:19 pm, fifteen minutes after the evacuations started. Exxon responders didn’t show up until 3:46 pm, almost an hour after the massive leak was reported.

It gets worse.

Apparently, Exxon told the federal National Response Center (NRC) that it noticed a problem at 1:15 p.m. when it spotted a drop in pressure, 90 minutes before the first 911 call reached the Faulkner County sheriff. But the transcripts show that Exxon didn’t place its first call to the NRC until 4:06 p.m., about 20 minutes after its responders arrived on the scene.

The details will eventually come out, but it looks like another case of Keystone Cops running around like chickens with their heads cut off while they try to keep us safe from the inevitable ruination that results when you try to put corrosive tar sands crude in a pipeline.

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