The Location & the Spill:
The green arrow on the map above is the approximate location of the ExxonMobil pipeline, which breached in Mayflower, Arkansas on 3/29/12. The pipeline connects Patoka, IL to the Texas Gulf Coast. In this incident, the pipeline was transporting dilbit, which is a blend of thick, sticky bitumen (from the Alberta tar sands area) with light and volatile diluent (naptha, benzene and other light hydrocarbons). Estimates are that XXX gallons of dilbit flowed from the burst pipeline, and pooled along the north curb of Starlite Rd. The land behind the houses along the north edge of Starlite Road is the top of a shallow drainage, flowing to the east, under Main Street, under Highway 89, under Interstate-40, and into a marshy bay, along the southwest shore of Lake Conway.
The dilbit flowed into the drainage, with some apparently flowing across yards. Ditches and storm drains off of Starlite Rd. would have also flowed dilbit into the drainage area. It eventually impacted a section of land nearly a mile long. At the eastern edge, the bitumen flow disappears under the water surface of Lake Conway. This is where the first set of booms was emplaced. A progression of additional booms were placed into the deeper water areas. Of course, booms are designed for crude oil, not dilbit.
Dilbit was not investigated by NTSB at the Kalamazoo River Spill:
NTSB investigated this large spill, and produced a 164-page report. The report was released a full two years after the accident, in July 2012. Amazingly, though, the report does not focus on the fact that the spill involved dilbit. In fact, the report repeatedly refers to the spill as ‘crude oil’, with volumes ranging between 843,000 and over a million gallons, depending on who you ask. At page 56 of the NTSB report (or, page 71 of the report PDF), paragraph 1.12.2 identifies the contents as Cold Lake Blend and Western Canadian Select; both of which are grades of bitumen from Alberta. By definition, crude oil has to be as it flows from the ground; this was NOT crude oil, this was dilbit, which presents the significant problem of two components likely to require different cleanup strategies.
What relevance does this have to Mayflower? Well, it means NTSB, in charge of investigating and making recommendations about pipeline accidents, has not yet explored the very real problem that BigOil pipeline response is geared toward crude oil pipeline accidents, not dilbit accidents. This would be like transitioning from smaller, propeller-driven commercial aircraft to larger jet aircraft and failing to recognize new problems such as higher speeds and wake turbulence. In the history of aviation, from 1960 onward, there has been a huge evolution of new rules for ATC and flight, to ensure the modern aviation system ‘at jet speeds’ is safe. How effective would NTSB be in aviation safety, if they failed to study the changes brought into commercial aviation by the rise of jet technologies in the 1960’s?
Here are some research links related to Kalamazoo 7-25-2010:
- [NTSB page with overview of 7/25/10 Kalamazoo Accident]
- [7-25-2010 Kalamazoo Accident, NTSB Report (9Mb PDF)]
- [7-29-10 EPA map showing air contaminants related to spill]
- [8-3-2010 EPA Situation Report]
Other News & Research Items:
This is the Federal code defining temporary flight restrictions. See especially 91.137(c)(5), which allows media access into the TFR, provided they follow an onerous process, filing plans with FAA, etc.
Appear to be ExxonMobil PR products, passed on by Mayflower.
A Gallery with twelve photographs, in the first days of the spill.
This article lists the spill content as Wabasca Heavy Crude, which is a dilbit blend from Alberta. It also offers some interesting insight into the problem that Alberta lacks pipeline capacity, and the excess supply thus drives the price down for refiners. In January 2013, Albertan oil sold for $30 per barrel less than West Texas Intermediate (a benchmark for pricing oil). In other words, the prospect of quick profits is motivating refiners to quickly move dilbit through re-engineered pipelines, before the wide price differential closes.
Arkansas’ Attorney General, Dustin McDaniel, sent a letter to ExxonMobil demanding copies and information.
Local freelance journalist Suzi Parker, from Little Rock, assesses the Mayflower spill situation.
A set of questions compiled by Rick Steiner. This article has numerous links to other news sources for the Mayflower spill. Pictures, too.
Dispatches From Exxon’s Spill Zone, Day 2An organized group opposed to Tar Sands goes to Mayflower hoping to interview residents and collect information. They run into aggressive local law enforcement who threaten arrests if they do not leave. Be sure to see the 5-minute aerial video, shot from a helicopter, showing the neighborhood, the spill, the polluted marsh/water, etc.
Q: …What do you get when you cross ExxonMobil and an Arkansas Sheriff?
A: …a Pyongyang.
This detailed blog fully debunks the ExxonMobil PR spin, showing the spill was a form of dilbit called Wabasca Heavy, from Alberta tar sands. He presents maps explaining river flow directions and impacts upon people in Arkansas. And, he presents some background on the pipeline network, including when various pipelines were built, when they were reversed, which refineries they feed, etc.