As noted on John Brummett's blog yesterday, Gov. Mike Beebe plans to proceed with a request for legislative approval to spend $250,000 in rainy day funds on testing and monitoring at the C&H Hog Farm in Mt. Judea. The facility has stirred controversy because of its proximity to a tributary of the Buffalo River and concerns about impacts on the community of Mt. Judea. Beebe said that he was hopeful that C&H — and surrounding landowners who have agreed to let C&H spray hog waste as fertilizer on their fields — would be on board. However, if approved by the Legislative Council, the state would have the legal authority, Beebe said, to proceed with the program with or without the permission of C&H or the owners of the spray fields.
"We’d always do normal monitoring under existing laws," Beebe said. "I felt like, with all of the concern that exists with regard to potential harm to the Buffalo or any of the watershed up there, I just thought we’d go further, be double sure and put in extensive monitoring — so if there is a problem, if the fears are legitimate, then we’ve got data and can immediately take steps to do whatever it takes to protect the environment." The monitoring would be conducted by water experts from the University of Arkansas, who are still developing the details and scope of the program.
Beebe said that administration officials would make a presentation on the program at the next Legislative Council meeting (set for next month). "I don't anticipate any problem," he said.
There have been murmurs that Cargill, the owner of the hogs and the farm’s sole customer, has given pushback to the idea (Cargill told us they had no comment until they see the actual proposal).
The governor, who said that he has not spoken directly with Cargill, said "we don't care about that."
The Farm Bureau and a bipartisan group of legislators — including Democrats Greg Leding and Warwick Sabin and Republicans David Branscum and Kelly Linck — have been generally positive about the idea of third-party testing. C&H has as well, though any resistance from Cargill would likely give them pause.
"We are hopeful for something that all parties can agree on," Farm Bureau spokesman Steve Eddington said. "Certainly the governor has some latitude to pursue testing and monitoring. But anything that significant is going to work best when all the appropriate parties are in agreement on the best way to accomplish it. We continue to work with the farmers at C&H to protect their interests."
The potential monitoring program would be led by Andrew Sharpley, a renowned soil and water quality expert at the University of Arkansas. Sharpley's team would in effect be deputized by the state, under the auspices and authority of ADEQ, to conduct their study. The governor said that after researching the question, his office has concluded that the state has the authority to do so "with or without landowners' permission" from either C&H or owners of the spray fields.
ADEQ Director Teresa Marks said that she has not yet had extensive discussions with the U of A researchers about the project. "We want to go ahead and let them do whatever they need to do to make sure they get a good and thorough study," she said. Marks said that if they discovered a problem linked to the farm, they could potentially recall and revise either the general permit that C&H is operating under or the specific nutrient management plan C&H developed as part of the permit (in either scenario, C&H would be given a period of time to make corrections, during which they could continue to operate under the general permit).
"If none of that works, ultimately it could all be denied," Beebe added. He said that it was important that the study focus on any possible environmental harm directly connected to the operation of the farm. "If that shows there’s harm to that river then it would be my instructions that we do whatever is necessary to immediately cease that harm," he said. Beebe said it was difficult to speculate on state response because it is unknown what the potential U of A study will find, but in the case of an extreme problem: "if it was catastrophic, all immediate remedial action including but not limited to 'cease and desist' would be an option available for the state."
One point to bear in mind politically: the phrase "with or without landowners' permission" is certain to raise the hackles of folks in Newton County; there is the potential for an ugly fight if not everyone gives the okay to the testing program.
We reported last month that Gov. Mike Beebe, lawmakers, and various stakeholders were in discussion about the possibility of state-funded testing and monitoring on the C & H hog farm in Mt. Judea, which has sparked controversy because of its location by a tributary of the Buffalo River. The testing and monitoring would be conducted by water experts from the University of Arkansas and paid for via state rainy day funds, pending legislative approval. Now we're hearing murmurs that the idea may have hit a roadblock because of resistance from Cargill, which owns the hogs and is the farm's sole buyer.
Yesterday, I received an anonymous email from someone claiming to be a state legislator, which stated "it is my understanding that U of A, Farm Bureau, and the Farmers support the testing but Cargill isn't on board." I cannot confirm that this actually came from a legislator, though at least one person heavily involved in negotiations over the possible testing program said off the record that it had.
Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Beebe, said, "We are starting to get some pushback from Cargill, so that's something to be worked out. [Cargill has] resistance to the idea of ongoing university monitoring...currently that's the biggest obstacle." DeCample said that governor's office had not spoken to Cargill directly but had heard from others involved in the negotiations that Cargill was resistant.
Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said that the company had not taken a position and was unable to comment until they saw an actual proposal.
"We have not taken anything off the table at this point. It it ultimately the property of the farm owners. It's ultimately their decision. In terms of how we feel about it, we'd have to analyze what's being proposed before we can comment. If the question is, 'Do we have some concerns about monitoring?' — the answer is that we would have to see what’s proposed because it depends on how it’s done and what’s being done, who’s doing it, who’s going to be involved in analyzing it, how it’s going to be reported."
The Arkansas Farm Bureau declined to comment specifically on Cargill's role. "Should all those involved agree that a third-party study is in the best interest of this family farm, we are certainly supportive of that effort," spokesman Steve Eddington said. "We understand those discussions are ongoing."
I was in Mt. Judea a few weeks back and asked C&H farmer Jason Henson about the possible testing program and he said it was "yet to be determined. It's up to several different people and groups." He said he was for it "because I think it will prove that everything we're doing is scientifically sound."
After the jump, the full anonymous email, signed "a concerned Arkansas legislator."
The spills are in Michigan three years ago and in Mayflower, Ark., in March.
They are featured prominently in the Sunday New York Times because of their relevance to the ongoing national debate on the Keystone XL pipeline. Already, the local rupture has changed markedly the demeanor of oil industry advocate U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, newly recast as a neighborhood defender. The Keystone pipeline, a virtual cornerstone of his 2012 election campaign, is still high on his wish list, but he is much less heard-from on the subject now.
Writes the Times:
It has been three years since an Enbridge Energy pipeline ruptured beneath this small western Michigan town, spewing more than 840,000 gallons of thick oil sands crude into the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek, the largest oil pipeline failure in the country’s history. Last March, an Exxon Mobil pipeline burst in Mayflower, Ark., releasing thousands of gallons of oil and forcing the evacuation of 22 homes.
Both pipeline companies have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to recover the heavy crude, similar to the product Keystone XL would carry. River and floodplain ecosystems have had to be restored, and neighborhoods are still being refurbished. Legal battles are being waged, and residents’ lives have been forever changed.
“All oil spills are pretty ugly and not easy to clean up,” said Stephen K. Hamilton, a professor of aquatic ecology at Michigan State University who is advising the Environmental Protection Agency and the state on the cleanup in Marshall. “But this kind of an oil is even harder to clean up because of its tendency to stick to surfaces and its tendency to become submerged.”
Three years in Michigan and the cleanup is not completed. Tell that to Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, who announces a congressional candidacy Monday. He visited Mayflower and proclaimed:
...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
Our cover story this week talks with neighbors who aren't so sanguine.
Unsettled feelings and circumstances in MIchigan long after the fact are the main emphasis of the NY Times story. But Arkansas is visited, too. After recounting the money that ExxonMobil has spent so far, the article continues:
For some, the money cannot replace the lives they once led.
Jimmy Arguello and his wife, Tiffany, lived in Northwoods for six years, in the first home they owned, built by Mr. Arguello, a plumber, and his friends.
The day the pipeline broke, the Arguellos were told by the police to pack for a few days. But for three months, the couple and their two young sons stayed at hotels — six in all — before settling into an apartment in nearby Conway.
Exxon has paid their living expenses, but the impact on the family has been “heartbreaking,” Mr. Arguello said. Worried about raising his children near an oil spill, he has decided to sell his home to Exxon. “It’s hard not to know where your family is going to go and where we’re going to end up,” he said. “I built that house six years ago. And now I’m not going back.”
This is worse, particularly for a manatee lover like myself.
A rash of unexplained manatee, pelican and dolphin deaths in a rich estuary in Florida has many concerned that the ecological tipping point has been passed in protecting the region from the damaging impact of explosive coastal development.
When you disturb earth and water — whether for houses, shopping centers or oil and gas wells — there can be ill consequences without rigorous oversight. Rigorous oversight is not viewed positively by political power brokers, in Florida or Arkansas.
Running a bit behind. The line is open. A final note:
* WORST DEVELOPING ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF: Good story here about a giant, noxious sinkhole, undoubtedly related to energy exploration, that threatens Bayou Corne, a South Louisiana community. The smell of crude; the sheen of oil on water, nervous townspeople. Where have I heard this before?
The lawsuit said the agencies had not issued the proper public notice and undertaken environmental assessments required by law. From a release:
“FSA and SBA failed to provide the public notice and undertake the environmental review and consultations required by law, so we’re asking the court to set aside the loan guarantees and instruct the agencies to comply,” said Emily Jones of the National Parks Conservation Association. “We have asked FSA and SBA to do the right thing without litigation, but they have not, and today we find ourselves in court to protect the Buffalo River, a national treasure of immeasurable worth.”
The SBA did no environmental assessment. The Farm Service Agency review was deeply flawed, the lawsuit says. Particularly, it ignored the impact of the smell from manure on a nearby school and the potential for problems from manure draining through the porous karst geology of the area.
The National Park Service, which operates the popular national river, wasn't notified of the farm until after it had been approved. It found 45 problems with the "woefully inadequate" environmental assessment.
“The rubber-stamping of the requested loan guarantees, the inadequate review of the environmental consequences, and the failure to notify the local community and to consult with sister agencies as required, makes a mockery of the law and puts a national treasure in harm’s way,” said Hannah Chang, attorney with the public interest law firm Earthjustice.
A local family is operating the farm under contract with Cargill, the food industry giant. The family has insisted it will be good stewards and values the region, too. The farm also got a permit from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. It is not a defendant in the suit, supported by the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the National Parks Conservation Association, The Ozark Society, the Arkansas Canoe Club and Earthjustice.
Judge Price Marshall drew the case. A legal foonote: Marshall once clerked for federal Judge Richard Arnold, who, as a private lawyer, won landmark federal court rulings that required substantive reviews of federal agency decisions under the National Environmental Policy Act. Arnold participated in efforts to stop damming of the Cossatot and channelizing of the Cache River. A violation of NEPA is among the things alleged in this lawsuit.
A low level of the fungus was found in a sample taken from the wall of Devil's Den Cave at Devil's Den State Park. That cave was among several closed by state agencies in 2009 and 2010 as a precaution. Scientists also found evidence of the fungus in a sample taken from a private cave in Baxter County, where swabs from both bats and walls turned up evidence of the fungus. The syndrome itself wasn't evident in bats in the caves checked and no bats have died in Arkansas from the disease.
The disease has killed bats in other parts of the country and state officials say they'll be revisiting caves to look for further signs of the problem. Closing the caves prevents humans from spreading spores inadvertently. The disease isn't a threat to people, pets or livestock.
Go to the jump for the full rundown.
It's been a little uncomfortable of late for Griffin. As the video notes, Arkansas is just one of the places where things have gone wrong with pipelines, despite Griffin's assurances that pipelines are utterly safe environmentally. He's also vouched for the responsibility of energy companies — which have supported him handsomely with campaign contributions. This caused a little embarrassment this week when ExxonMobil bean counters decided that a million or so bucks was enough to spend on the 22 Mayfower families displaced by the Canadian tar sands that flowed onto their street after the Pegasus pipeline burst. The company decided to end housing support payments. A day later, in the face of broad spread outcry, beginning with affected residents, the company relented. They could afford it. The company made $44.9 billion in its last fiscal year. At the rate it's spent so far on Mayflower and the pipeline break — about $47 million — it has almost 1,000 years to go just to spend up last year's profit.
“The governor has been looking for a way that we can work within existing state laws and regulations to have as much monitoring on the hog farm operation as possible,” said Matt DeCample, Gov. Mike Beebe’s spokesman. “What he wants to do is to propose using rainy day funds, which would need legislative approval, to do ongoing testing and monitoring up along that part of the watershed. We’re working with the University of Arkansas on that.”
DeCample said that the project is “by no means a done deal” and that he had no details at this time about what the testing might entail. The C&H farmers are on board, but they also need permission from the various landowners that the farmers lease from.
DeCample said there was no timetable on a formal announcement or proposal.
Then, darn! An ExxonMobil pipeline blew out in Arkansas, soaking a Mayflower neighborhood with tar sands and polluting a creek and lake, all not many miles upstream from the water supply for about 20 percent of the population of Arkansas.
So tone deaf was Griffin — unsurprising given his historical financial support from oil companies — that his first wade into the muck of Mayflower was as a pipeline apologist. The Keystone XL pipeline will be safe, oil companies learn from their mistakes, pipelines are not environmental problems, yadda yadda.
But then a funny thing happened. A fan club didn't instantly form up for ExxonMobil, as it has for, say, the Fayetteville shale exploration companies. So Griffin has pivoted. He's all concerned now. He's meeting with residents. He's filed a largely meaningless bill to give the handful of people to whom ExxonMobil eventually deigns, maybe, to pay any money, a little tax exemption on the payment. He is, I suspect, the one leaking selected info to the Democrat-Gazette on inspection reports on the pipeline, information that Exxon continues to refuse to share with the public at large. He needs some friends in the press, that's for sure. And, of course, he hasn't stopped pushing for more pipelines moving more dangerous and environmentally unfriendly tar sands across America to refineries that will ship finished goods to China. That the Koch boys own tar sands property in Canada as well as refineries is just a delightful coincidence.
And just to be sure the reaction to future pipeline disasters is appropriate — TIM GRIFFIN AND OTHER HOUSE REPUBLICANS PROPOSE TO SLASH THE BUDGET OF THE FEDERAL ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. Who needs the EPA? Or the ADEQ? Or any other regulatory agency? If you can't trust ExxonMobil and Tim Griffin, who can you trust?
Here's the news on the proposal to cut the EPA budget by ONE THIRD. (Yahoo News used Tim Griffin's picture for illustration. He's on Ways and Means, after all.) He and the other House Repubs also want to cut arts spending in half. Who needs art? What we need is oil. And lots of it. If some of it spills, hey. You gotta crack eggs to make an omelette.
UPDATE: The Democratic Party uses the occasion to note Griffin's votes detrimental to pipeline safety:
A smorgasbord of fracking headlines today:
* FORMER MOBIL VICE PRESIDENT WARNS OF FRACKING AND CLIMATE CHANGE: In this interview, the former energy exec, Louis Allstadt, says fracking is "conventional drilling on steroids" and in need of tighter regulation.
* THE CLUB FOR GROWTH'S MAN IN ARKANSAS's 4TH DISTRICT:
* ONE-YEAR STUDY FINDS FRACKING CHEMICALS DID NOT SPREAD INTO DRINKING WATER: That's the verdict so far in a federal test of migration of fluids in western Pennsylvania. This is study Cotton was cheering along with the gas industry.
* BUT, SOMETIMES S*** HAPPENS: This is a link to a Department of Environmental Quality report on a leak at a Southwestern Energy waste pit in Van Buren County (behind the Clinton Walmart). It included the photos at top. The source of the leaking fluid, heavy with salts, hadn't been determined at this report.
The subject is ExxonMobil, actually a subsidiary, XTO. The subject is also fracking. That's three-for-three in terms of subjects that also are relevant in Arkansas.
The news is from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The ExxonMobil subsidiary has settled a pollution complaint from the federal Environmental Protection Agency over handling of wastewater from fracking operations there. Pollutants were found in a river tributary. The ExxonMobil subsidiary will have to spend $20 million to prevent spills and properly dispose of waste the gas exploration process.
The full EPA release is on the jump.
I asked the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality whether the water protection steps outlined in the agreement suggested whether oversight in Arkansas is adequate for handling of wastewater. In short: Lots of regulations are in place. But you can read the full answer on the jump, too.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the pipeline operator, ExxonMobil, have found that most of the heavy metals in the cove and the main body of the lake are below levels of concern. Their testing is incomplete, however, because so far they’ve sampled only the water, not the soils or lake sediment.
Even when all the tests are done, health experts say it will be almost impossible to predict the long-term effects on residents, because little is known about how mixtures of heavy metals break down and change in the environment over time.
Joseph Graziano, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University, said that in addition to determining the concentrations of heavy metals, scientists also must study if and how residents come into contact with the contaminants. "Sure, heavy metals have serious health effects," he said. "But only if exposure takes place."
Graziano and other experts say it's important to know, for example, if the metals are seeping into groundwater and reaching basements or backyard gardens, and if they're becoming more concentrated—and therefore more toxic—as they make their way up the food chain in Lake Conway.
KUAR's Michael Hibblen reports that a federal regulatory agency has received from ExxonMobil a metallurgical report that was due today on the Pegasus pipeline that ruptured and spewed tar sands on a Mayflower neighborhood. But the agency is not releasing the findings and what they might reveal about the cause of the rupture as its investigation continues.
UPDATE: Exxon has allowed (AP), however that "manufacturing defects" contributed to the rupture.
Exxon says no corrosion. Tar sands are cool in other words. They haven't yet said how many hundreds of miles of this line might have manufacturing defects. Here's the full statement:
ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (EMPCo) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have received the results of an independent assessment conducted by Hurst Metallurgical Research Laboratory, Inc. on the Pegasus Pipeline segment that failed on March 29, 2013. We are currently in the process of reviewing and analyzing the data.
Based on the metallurgical analysis, the independent laboratory concluded that the root cause of the failure can be attributed to original manufacturing defects — namely hook cracks near the seam.
Additional contributing factors include atypical pipe properties, such as extremely low impact toughness and elongation properties across the ERW seam.
There are no findings that indicate internal or external corrosion contributed to the failure.
While we now know the root cause of the failure, we are still conducting supplemental testing, which will help us understand all factors associated with the pipe failure and allow for the verification of the integrity of the Pegasus Pipeline. These tests will help us determine the mitigation steps we need to take to ensure a similar incident does not occur again.
It's informative. The article notes that information might finally be available this week on what scheduled inspections of the pipeline prior to the spill, particularly at the site of the rupture, had indicated about the integrity of the line.
LCD: When was the last time that kind of inspection process occurred at the site where the pipeline ruptured?.
KT: In the first quarter of this year, specifically in February. Those results are not available yet. I know it’s hard to understand and I’m sympathetic to that, but these tools generate a significant amount of data that has to be run through programs and computer analysis with tools that tell us where to go to evaluate the tool run. HUH? Since that run we’ve gotten a report back to do what we call validation digs…We are doing validation digs on that tool run.
ExxonMobil Pipeline Company is in its third extension to provide the report on the cause of the pipeline break to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The original due date was May 17, and the deadline is now July 10
Tyrone says that while the company is past the stage of cleaning up "free oil," there are still "impacted" homes requiring "further remediation." Please note, Lt. Gov. Darr, that everything is NOT better than it was before the break.
LCD: Is there still oil in the Northwoods subdivision?
KT: I would say there is a very limited amount of drops under the foundations of some homes. The most impacted homes still have remediation work to be done. Those homeowners have not yet been allowed to return. We’re working as fast as we can and working with them to get them home as fast as we can. The good news is the majority of the homes have been approved for reentry. Fifteen homeowners have been through the process.
About the oil, someone went and saw a small amount. But in the yards and in areas there’s no free oil. But what we’ve done is excavate around the foundation to watch and test. We’ve taken samples under and beside the homes and we’re watching to see what happens there as well as taking scientific sample analysis…That’s the only place you’d see oil.
North Korea, still setting the standard for over-the-top propaganda, dispatched this account of the execution…
70%--it doesn't autostart for me. Maybe it is a setting on your computer or browser…
Damn Cato, I could have gone all night without that. Here's something super cool. Ever…
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