Lisa Song of InsideClimate News has a great piece today exploring the complicated question of the long-term health impacts of oil spills. The short answer is that we really don't know. There are no clear federal guidelines on what to do when a spill happens in a populated area and it's often left up to local officials to make decisions, with results varying from place to place. Song notes the differences in response to three oil spills in U.S. neighborhoods since 2010, including the Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower.
In Mayflower, Ark. authorities quickly evacuated 22 families after a broken pipeline leaked about 200,000 gallons of heavy crude on March 29, 2013. But people living in the same subdivision, just a few blocks away, were not asked to leave. Neither were the residents of the lakeside community where the oil eventually pooled and where the cleanup continues today.
After each of these spills, people complained of headaches, nausea and respiratory problems—short-term symptoms that health experts say are common after any chemical spill and usually disappear as the air clears.
What health experts don't know, however, is whether the fumes could also trigger long-term health problems that become evident only years or decades later. That gap will be increasingly important, because over the next few years the industry plans to build or expand more than 10,000 miles of oil pipelines—including the Keystone XL.
Despite all the new building, Song notes that "there are no plans to conduct long-term health studies in Mayflower, Marshall or Salt Lake City. There also doesn't appear to be any momentum to set federal guidelines for chemical exposures at oil spills, so health officials will be better equipped for future emergencies."
The article takes a close look at the policy response to the Mayflower spill from state health officials:
In Arkansas, health officials decided that Mayflower residents could return to their subdivision when benzene levels in and around their homes dropped to below 50 ppb. (Most of the 22 evacuated homes have been cleared for re-entry, although none of the families have returned.) But people nearby complained of headaches, nausea and other health problems even after officials announced online that contaminants in the air were "below levels likely to cause health effects for the general population." ...
After oil spills, public health decisions usually fall to county or state officials. In Mayflower, those decisions were made by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), which set a benzene threshold of 50 ppb.
Lori Simmons, who heads the agency's environmental epidemiology section, said the ADH calculated that a member of the general public could be exposed to air with up to 50 ppb of benzene for up to six months without long-term health effects.
InsideClimate News tried to compare that 50 ppb guideline with guidelines established by other agencies, but found that it was virtually impossible to make a direct comparison. Some guidelines were designed to protect people from certain health effects but not others. Many, like the ATSDR guidelines, come with disclaimers saying they aren't supposed to be used to define what's safe and not safe.
Song notes that "Arkansas' benzene threshold is also considerably higher than the guidelines used in Alberta, Canada, where the heavy crude oil that spilled in Arkansas and Michigan was extracted."
Read the whole thing.
KUAR reports on Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr's visit to Mayflower, where he toured cleanup efforts with Mayor Randy Holland.
They say questions persist — like what caused the pipeline to rupture — but both officials seem to echo a sentiment common among many local officials and even some residents who don’t live in the immediate area of the spill: That the area is actually more desirable than it was before the spill and that Exxon has been cooperative.
"To me the clean-up looks like they've done a good job. But I didn't just do that from my visual. I did that from speaking to the mayor, hearing his opinions, local businesses, and also local citizens that they've kind of made this area even better than what it was before. I definitely think there's some unanswered questions, but as far as the clean-up goes it looks like that's been pretty well taken care of," says Darr.
Arkansas Attorney Gen. Dustin McDaniel has scheduled a press conference for 11 a.m. today at the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality HQ in Maumelle, with ADEQ Director Teresa Marks and U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer in attendance.
Could be some fresh environmental hell, but we're betting on Mayflower. We'll update once we know.
ExxonMobil has been granted its third extension to provide the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration its analysis of what may have caused the metal in the Pegasus Pipeline to split under a Mayflower neighborhood, spilling 100,000-plus gallons of heavy crude there and into the Lake Conway watershed.
Spokesman Aaron Stryk said the company wants to do more testing in the laboratory and clarify some of the preliminary data that he said has already been supplied to PHMSA. Originally due May 17 and extended to June 7, the report deadline is now July 10. Stryk said ExxonMobil will not release any of the findings until the analysis is complete.
John Tynan, the Watershed Protection Manager with Central Arkansas Water, said CAW asked for but was not provided the preliminary report. CAW and Pulaski County municipalities are concerned about the integrity of the pipeline as it passes by Lake Maumelle, the water supply for 400,000 people, and have begun meeting with ExxonMobil representatives to make sure their concerns are addressed. Tynan said the communication with the company, slow at first, has improved.
The annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival, scheduled for this weekend in Warren, will have crafts, food and music. but few tomatoes, organizers say. A cooperative extension agent told KATV that three April temperature dips delayed the usual harvest time in Bradley County by up to three weeks and stunted what did ripen to "finger food" size. Get thee to the Piggly Wiggly, Warrenites.
Officials from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality met today with representatives of the Ozark Society, the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, and the National Parks Conservation Association. The conservation groups have raised complaints about the adequacy of the permit granted to C&H Hog Farm for a hog feeding operation near Big Creek, which flows six miles away into the Buffalo National River. These groups were also part of a coalition that sent a letter of demand to the feds yesterday; a federal lawsuit may be forthcoming.
Hank Bates, a Little Rock lawyer acting as co-counsel for the coalition, asked for the meeting with ADEQ. "We did not go in to the meeting with any specific agenda," he said. "It was really just a chance to sit down and talk about the issues in a very broad sense. We had a free-flowing discussion."
While they "have a fundamental disagreement on the adequacy of the permit application," Bates said that they tried to find "areas we can find common ground on in terms of moving forward both in terms of this specific operation and the future." Bates wasn't willing to go in to much detail but said that the meeting was a success in terms of opening up dialogue.
I asked whether litigation against the state was possible. Bates said "it's an option we're looking at."
The meeting was closed to the public and the media.
Great report from HuffPost on lingering problems for residents of Mayflower two months after the oil spill.
More than two months after ExxonMobil’s 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline burst and spewed a gusher of thick Canadian tar sands oil through Mayflower, AR, and into a marsh on Lake Conway—the state’s most popular fishing spot—residents are still complaining of health problems and are worried about poisonous impacts on wildlife and the environment. Many locals and some scientists have little faith in the continuous rosy assurances from Exxon and the Unified Command that testing results show the environment is safe and that tar sands oil has not contaminated the lake.
KUAR reports that an unnamed spokesman for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration says ExxonMobil's report to PHMSA on what caused the rupture of the Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower report should be complete soon, but he didn't say when it would be made public.
The report also quotes environmental scientist (and MacArthur Genius Grant winner) Wilma Subra saying there is no evidence to support the state's claim that the bed of Lake Conway is unharmed.
In response to McDaniel’s claim of a relatively unharmed lake bed, Subra says there is no evidence to support such a claim and that her analysis and independent testing shows the presence of harmful chemicals associated with the "fingerprint" of the oil that spilled from the Pegasus Pipeline.
Subra said, "Well, if they want to tell us there's not very much down there they need to perform the sampling in the water column and demonstrate that it's not there."
If the oil has reached the bottom, as was the case in a tar sands spill along the Kalamazoo River, she says it presents a new set of ecological, public health, and clean-up challenges. It also brings into question the methodology and reporting of information concerning health factors in Mayflower.
Workers with the energy utility Oklahoma Gas and Electric discovered a mineral oil spill at a utility substation in Fort Smith on Saturday, 40/29 reports. OGE said about 16,000 gallons spilled. A spokesperson from the EPA said it hasn't confirmed how far the oil has spread, but knows it's gone at least three miles downhill from the substation. Crews were working on a nearby creek today.
Central Arkansas Water is seeking public comment on two leases up for renewal in the Lake Maumelle watershed — Jolly Roger's Marina and the Grande Maumelle Sailing Club at Lake Maumelle. A survey on the decisions can be accessed here.
After the jump, a letter from CAW Watershed Protection Manager John Tynan on the lease renewals and the public survey.
A land-use ordinance restricting development in the Lake Maumelle watershed is set to go into effect in April of 2014 (with a moratorium on various forms of development in place in the mean time), but various stakeholders are hoping to come up with an alternative plan.
An amendment from JP Tyler Denton established a task force to once again hash out the various issues surrounding watershed protection and make recommendations for possible changes to the ordinance. Denton is hoping to get 20-30 (!) individuals to serve on the task force, representing various constituencies, including landowners, environmentalists, business interests, and others (Deltic Timber, which owns more than 10,000 acres of land in the watershed, is the biggest stakeholder of all). Here's a press release on the task force and here's the application for those interested in serving on it.
“This is a good opportunity for the community and all the stakeholders who didn’t like the initial watershed management plan to roll up their sleeves and work for a better plan,” Denton said. Some environmentalists have complained that the ordinance does not go far enough to protect the watershed, while landowners have griped that they are getting a raw deal.
Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines said that he believed that the ordinance as it stands already "does what we've set out to do, which is protect our drinking water and to be as fair to the property owners as we can." He pointed out that the debate — and attempts at compromise — have been ongoing for years, and the ordinance as written has periodic review and opportunities for amendments. "I don’t have any problem at all with folks getting together and looking at this," he said. "My biggest concern is that they don’t forget that our primary role and responsibility is to protect the drinking water of 400,000 people in central Arkansas. And if they come back and want to reduce those protections, then I’ll have a serious problem.”
For his part, Denton seems to be focused on the process and building consensus rather than any specific policy complaints about the ordinance. "I'm optimistic that the Quorum Court has seen a light at the end of the tunnel for finally putting this behind us," he said. "I'm optimistic that this doesn't have to be such a heated, partisan activity. I'm confident that with community input from the bottom up that we can come up with a process that will make everybody happy. And if we can't, at least we tried."
Denton tapped Tom Riley, a conflict resolution expert from the University of Arkansas, to facilitate the process. If the discussion follows a similar path to the last few years, Riley will have his hands full.
In any case, the task-force recommendations will be non-binding and would have to go through the Planning board and the Quorum Court. Otherwise, the ordinance as is will be implemented in a little less than a year.
The climate deniers, Dumas notes, say we should cheer a warmer planet — the melting ice cap, rising oceans, wild weather swings notwithstanding. Arkansas leads the way in the wrong direction.
In case people might be getting the wrong idea from all the climate news, Randy Zook, president of the State Chamber of Commerce [there he goes again], wrote a piece for the Democrat Gazette last week warning that terrible damage was about to be inflicted on Arkansas by the Environmental Protection Agency, which wants to cap carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. The U. S. Supreme Court said years ago that the Clean Air act obliged government to regulate greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, and the proposed EPA rules on new source performance standards for carbon-based power is the first anemic effort.
Nearly everywhere in the U.S. except Arkansas utilities and government have scaled back coal-based power development. The EPA rules won’t discommode a single Arkansas homeowner or business, but Zook warned that we will no longer have electricity that we can afford.
Our congressman Tim Griffin, deterred only briefly by the ExxonMobil tar-sands pipeline catastrophe in the heart of his district, rejoined the effort to get the president to approve the giant tar-sands pipeline across the heart of the country, which would enable Canada to develop its tar sands and give the biggest impetus yet to global warming. Griffin was elected by $220,000 of carbon-industry money, including $4,000 from Exxon Mobil, but the entire Arkansas congressional delegation joins him. All six also join the oil and coal industries in opposing the EPA rules.
The unstated argument is that electricity costs might go up a little and that our prosperity should not suffer a whit to preserve a healthy planet for our great-grandchildren. The great search of our time is for a moral philosophy to justify selfishness.
German brewers have warned Chancellor Angela Merkel that any law allowing the controversial drilling technique known as fracking could damage the country's cherished beer industry.
The Brauer-Bund beer association is worried that fracking for shale gas, which involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into the ground, could pollute water used for brewing and break a 500-year-old industry rule on water purity.
Here's some good background from The City Wire, a Northwest Arkansas digital news site. It recently reported:
Documents reviewed by The City Wire show Fort Smith city officials knew about Whirlpool's plan to request a groundwater well ban as early as June of last year and that Whirlpool may not have been forthcoming with the city or the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality about its request.
Whirlpool finally disclosed the situation because it wanted the ordinance, since pulled down, as an aid to selling the site.
Details on the lawsuit follow:
The line is open.
Leslie Newell Peacock hopes to follow directly with a little something about a meeting today of Little Rock, Central Arkansas Water, ExxonMobil and other people over the Pegasus pipeline that runs through 18 miles of CAW's watershed, including along the shore of Lake Maumelle, the region's water supply. This was in response to a request from Mayor Mark Stodola for a little overdue info.
Among other things, the company has at long last come up with some ideas to better assure water drinkers about the safety of their supply. Leslie is getting a copy of the report. Somehow, I don't think it includes moving the aging line — currently not operating after it spilled Canadian tar sands crude all over a Mayflower neighborhood and wetlands near Lake Conway. ExxonMobil says it's still waiting, after several months, for the findings of an internal study of the structural condition of the aging line, more than 60 years old.
Back to you for the open line.
UPDATE: As of 6 p.m., CAW had not sent over the report. According to Mayor Stodola, who met with me after the unpublicized meeting, Exxon representatives said they had not had time to read the letter jointly sent them by Sens. Pryor and Boozman, Rep. Tim Griffin, Stodola and NLR Mayor Joe Smith, County Judge Buddy Villines and CAW chairperson Carmen Smith as "Lake Maumelle Governmental Shareholders." The letter asks Exxon to, among other things, take immediate action to analyze the integrity of the pipeline that crosses the Lake Maumelle watershed and "provide assurances that the pipeline is safe for operation" prior to the restart of the Pegasus line.
Stodola said he asked the Exxon officials, now represented by Bill Paschall of Paschall Strategic Communications, why the company had not gotten around to installing a third valve in the line in the watershed that CAW requested in 2010. Stodola said they claimed they were going to get around to it this summer, but they can't now, of course, because the pipeline is shut down.
Exxon told Stodola that it does aerial surveys of the pipeline in the Maumelle area twice a week, and walks the pipeline once every three years. The area is rugged and remote in places and the "shareholders" are concerned that should there be a break, Exxon could not shut down the pipes and get to the break before all of Central Arkansas's drinking water is fouled by Canadian crude.
>> I remember well being told by a priest that a wife was to be…
eLwood - Fleet Street has a long tradition of yellow journalism, the Daily Mail is…
It's the British equivalent of National Inquirer, gimme a break! Again, I hold you, due…
A&E Feature / To-Do List / In Brief / Movie Reviews / Music Reviews / Theater Reviews / A&E News / Art Notes / Graham Gordy / Books / Media / Dining Reviews / Dining Guide / What's Cookin' / Calendar / The Televisionist / Movie Listings / Gallery Listings