WASHINGTON — The images from the recent oil pipeline spill are striking — gurgling, toxic black sludge swamping a residential subdivision and driving families from their homes.
Environmental groups quickly characterized Friday's rupture of the Exxon Mobil Corp. pipe in Mayflower, Ark., as foreshadowing of what Nebraskans could face if the proposed Keystone XL pipeline were to leak.
“In the run-up to a decision on the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would move the same ultra-heavy and acidic crude, the Arkansas spill is a reminder of what is at stake for communities and landowners along the 2,000-mile KXL pipeline route,” said Josh Mogerman, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Keystone XL supporters say that pipelines remain the safest way to transport oil and that the Arkansas spill simply demonstrates the need to upgrade the country's infrastructure with modern pipelines like the Keystone XL. As photos of oil-coated ducks made their way onto the Internet, pipeline opponents tried to tie the spill to the Keystone XL.
Bold Nebraska's executive director, Jane Kleeb, noted that the oil that spilled in Arkansas could have flowed through TransCanada's original Keystone pipeline.
“If this is true, we look forward to TransCanada and Exxon both taking responsibility for the latest in a string of tar sands pollution on our country's soil and waterways,” Kleeb said in a statement. “They get the reward, our families are left with all the risk. It's time for President Obama to stop the next tar sands disaster and deny Keystone XL.”
TransCanada's proposed pipeline would run from the oil sands of Canada to Texas refineries. It requires State Department review and presidential approval because it crosses an international border.
The project has been studied for years. Republicans on Capitol Hill have been pushing the White House to move forward with the project, and at least some Democrats are frustrated with the delays. In a symbolic vote, the Senate recently passed a resolution overwhelmingly in favor the pipeline — with the support of 17 Democrats.
In the midst of that debate came the Arkansas spill.
Exxon said Monday that it had collected about 12,000 barrels of oil and water, according to a statement from the Mayflower Incident Unified Command Joint Information Center. The town recommended the evacuation of 22 homes. Exxon said no oil had reached nearby Lake Conway.
Whether the Arkansas spill affects the fate of the Keystone XL remains to be seen.
Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, said the company has agreed to higher safety standards with American regulators for the Keystone XL, such as increasing the number of shutoff valves, boosting inspections and burying the pipe deeper.
The Arkansas spill “is an unfortunate circumstance and demonstrates the pipeline industry must continue to focus on the safe, reliable operation of its energy infrastructure,” Howard said in an email. “Americans consume 15 million barrels of oil every day to heat their homes, cook their food and start their cars. Oil and petroleum products are part of our daily lives.”
A spokesman for a leading proponent of the pipeline, Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said Monday that the spill shows the country needs to improve its infrastructure for transporting oil and noted that State Department analysis has found that Keystone XL poses little environmental risk.
“Keystone would be the most highly engineered pipeline available to us,” Larry Farnsworth told The World-Herald.
This report contains material from Bloomberg News.
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