TOM STEYER: Trying to bring attention to Mayflower.
Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer was in Little Rock and Mayflower on Tuesday for meetings on the Mayflower oil spill.
Last year, Steyer — whose net worth has been estimated at $1.4 billion by Forbes — stepped down from running a San Francisco-based hedge fund he founded to focus on politics, especially environmental issues. A longtime major donor to the Democratic Party, he’s now positioning himself as an outside funder in the same order of the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson, but for green-oriented Democrats. According to Politico, he spent $8 million to help Terry McAuliffe defeat Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli in the recent Virginia gubernatorial election — more, on a per-vote basis, than Adelson spent in the last presidential election.
Now, through his environment-focused super PAC NextGen Climate Action, Steyer has his sights set on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. In September, he launched a four-part TV advertising campaign, dubbed “Bringing Down TransCanada’s House of Cards: The Keystone Chronicles,” which included a spot that featured Steyer speaking from Mayflower. Jim Margolis, the man behind many of Obama’s presidential campaign ads, produced the campaign.
Here's part two of "Shattered by Oil: Exxon Arkansas Spill and the People Left Behind," featuring Elizabeth McGowan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who covered the aftermath of the Pegasus pipeline rupture thanks to donors who contributed to a crowdfunding effort by the Times and InsideClimate News. This mini-documentary — see part one here — was produced by InsideClimate News and PBS' "This American Land." It was funded in part by our crowdfunding effort.
Check out part one of "Shattered by Oil: Exxon Arkansas Spill and the People Left Behind." It's a co-production between our news partner, InsideClimate News and PBS' "This American Land."
InsideClimate News' Elizabeth McGowan plays host. The video was funded in part by the our crowdfunding campaign.
Many of those featured in our story, "The Forgotten in Mayflower," about those residents who live within sight of the Pegasus pipeline but were largely ignored by ExxonMobil and government officials, make appearances, including Genieve Long, Ann Jarrell and Linda Lynch. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel also gets some screen time.
ExxonMobil plans to demolish another home in the Northwoods neighborhood of Mayflower, where an Exxon pipeline ruptured on March 29, spilling thousands of gallons of tar sands crude that polluted the neighborhood, surrounding wetlands and a cove of Lake Conway. The home at 44 N. Starlite had never been cleared for re-entry by the Mayflower Unified Command, a collection of local, state and federal officials and Exxon, and is scheduled to be demolished late this morning, Exxon spokesman Aaron Stryk said.
"This home was determined by Unified Command to have oil remaining beneath its foundation. Demolition and excavation of the soil under the home's foundation is an efficient and effective way to ensure that any remaining oil has been removed," Stryk said in an email.
This follows the Oct. 7 demolition of two other homes in the neighborhood, 32 and 36 N. Starlite, both of which were also determined to have oil beneath their foundations.
According to the Faulkner County Assessor's Office, the home at 44 N. Starlite was purchased in 2006 by Greg Doster for $165,000. Records show Exxon purchased the house on Oct. 25 for $185,000.
Exxon has purchased 20 homes in Northwoods to date, according to the Assessor's Office. That's about one third of the subdivision.
VIOLATIONS FOUND: Safety rules violated in Mayflower oil spill, federal regulators say.
The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in a letter today notified the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company that it had found nine probable violations of pipeline safety regulations and proposed $2.6 million in civil penalties.
Here's the letter from PHMSA to ExxonMobil, whose Pegasus pipeline ruptured March 29 in a Mayflower subdivision and spewed 5,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands in the subdivision and nearby wetlands, including a cove of Lake Conway. The cleanup is continuing and has included purchase and removal of homes in the subdivision. Testing continues in Lake Conway.
A compliance order issued by the agency and included at the link requires additional actions by the pipeline company that will further delay any potential restarting of the line. Many critics hope the line isn't reopened or, at a minimum, is moved out of the watershed of Central Arkansas's main water supply, Lake Maumelle.
Among others, the regulators found the company had failed to properly consider the risk of seam failures in pipe made before 1970; didn't meet 5-year assessment intervals; didn't give adequate priority to potential for problems in "high consequence areas"; didn't take prompt action on places identified as needing immediate attention; hadn't updated risk assessments, and failed to follow operating procedures.
The cumulative penalty amount comes from differing assessments for each of the nine probable violations. The biggest, $783,000, related to the nearby Lake Maumelle water supply.
PHMS said the pipeline company was supposed to have a manual of written procedures for normal operations and emergencies. But ...
The operator failed to follow its Operations and Maintenance procedures by selectively using results of its Threat Identification and Risk Assessment Manual (TIARA) process in 2011 which resulted in the failure to properly characterize the risk of a release to the Lake Maumelle Watershed, and other [high consequence areas] HCAs in the Conway to Foreman segment of the pipeline. This resulted in the failure to determine an "Identified Threat" related to Manufacturing existed on the segment ....
U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor issued a statement:
ExxonMobil has caused undue harm to Arkansas families, and they must be held accountable. I commend the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for issuing this penalty. The fight’s not over, but this is a positive step forward as we work to make the Mayflower community whole again.
ExxonMobil offered this prepared response, through communications and media advisor Aaron Stryk:
We are disappointed that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has decided to issue a Notice of Probable Violations (NOPV) on the Pegasus incident.
ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (EMPCo) remains under a Corrective Action Order for the pipeline and is cooperating with PHMSA in all matters related to the investigation. PHMSA approved a 90-day extension last month for submitting a work plan on Pegasus to allow for the completion of previously approved supplemental testing and analysis on the pipeline.
We are committed to understanding the factors that led to the release in Mayflower first and then establishing the integrity of the entire pipeline to ensure an incident like this does not happen again.
We will review the NOPV and will continue to work with PHMSA on any follow up actions.
In the meantime, the Pegasus pipeline is down, and we will not restart it until we are satisfied it is safe to do so and have the approval of PHMSA.
Regarding next steps, we are still reviewing the NOPV and have not yet determined our future course of action. However, it does appear that PHMSA’s analysis is flawed and the agency has made some fundamental errors. For example, Alleged Violation #2 claims that EMPCo failed to conduct a re-assessment of Pegasus within 5 years of the 2005-06 baseline assessments. In fact, EMPCo conducted the required reassessment in 2010. This is shown by Alleged Violation Numbers 5 and 6 which reference the In Line Inspections tool runs performed in 2010 as part of the 2010 reassessment.
U.S. District Judge James Moody has scheduled the trial date for the joint complaint brought by the state of Arkansas and the U.S. government against ExxonMobil Pipeline Company and Mobil Pipeline Company. A pre-trial conference will happen Feb. 13, 2014, with the trial scheduled to begin the following day.
The lawsuit seeks civil penalties for the March 29 Pegasus pipeline oil spill in Mayflower. Exxon's liability for the spilled oil is clear. At issue will be whether or not the state and feds can prove that the spill happened as a result of Exxon's negligence or willful misconduct. Federal penalties, as outlined in the Clean Water Act, range from $1,100 per barrel spilled or $4,300 per barrel if negligence or willful misconduct can be proved. Exxon estimates 5,000 barrels were spilled, or 210,000 gallons, a number the EPA has so far accepted. So we're talking about $5.5 million versus $21.5 million, plus other potential penalties.
Earlier this month, Exxon filed an extension to submit a work plan to federal regulators for how it will verify the integrity of the Pegasus pipeline. A spokesman for Exxon said the extension means the company couldn't conceivably restart the line before January 2014. And likely later. Experts estimate the closure of the Pegasus is costing Exxon as much as $450,000 per day, Elizabeth Douglass, with our partner news organization InsideClimate News, reports.
Crews working in the wetlands near Lake Conway this spring.
On October 11, ExxonMobil released its investigative report on the results of soil and sediment tests from Mayflower and Lake Conway. The company submitted the 81-page report to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) as part of its cleanup obligations, and the document is supposed to provide a definitive picture of the environmental situation in the wake of the Pegasus oil spill. ADEQ has been studying the report in the weeks since, and on Monday, it sent a reply to Exxon asking that the oil giant to reevaluate some of its conclusions and continue testing. The agency also forwarded a letter from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) with more critiques of the report. To assist in conducting an independent evaluation of the data, AGFC hired two environmental consulting companies with a history of investigating oil spills.
Perhaps the most important point in either regulator’s reply is the Game and Fish Commission’s rebuttal of how Exxon’s report treats a class of pollutant called polyaromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. Game and Fish says that Exxon's figure for PAH contamination may misrepresent the amount of toxins still in the environment.
Seven more lawsuits were filed today in Faulkner Circuit Court against ExxonMobil defendants over damages caused by the ruptured Pegasus pipeline that drenched a Mayflower subdivision and part of Lake Conway with heavy Canadian tar sands laced with other dangerous chemicals.
The suits represent groups of plaintiffs from peope who evacuated homes; from some not evacuated; from people who lived near the pipeline, and from people near the lake. All alleged property damage, exposure to noxious fumes and disruption of their lives. The suit said Exxon has known for 25 years about problems with pipe used in the line.
She was unable to provide a full analysis, but after her initial inspection, she expressed skepticism about ADEQ’s findings. She said that the data indicates more sampling must be done in order to determine the extent of the contamination, and she isn’t ready to rule out the possible presence of oil in the main body of Lake Conway.
When sampling soil and sediment in the wake of an environmental disaster, it’s necessary to take “background” samples from a nearby area that’s not been impacted. This provides a baseline picture of what environmental conditions were like before the event occurred. But some of the sites used for background samples near Mayflower themselves indicate the presence of petroleum contamination. Other sites do not. The background samples in question were too far away to be affected by the Pegasus spill, but do they provide a useful baseline?
“The issue is when you have values that range as much as their, quote, background, it’s very clear that a lot of the areas they sample have other sources of contamination impacting them, to have that kind of high concentration,” Subra said. “I don’t think their selection of background locations was very appropriate.”
'ECOLOGICAL CONCERNS':They remain for cove of Lake Conway, which is show here as heavy crude leaks into it.
State agencies say preliminary reviews of soil and sediment samples in and around Lake Conway and the oil-fouled Northwoods subdivision in Mayflower show levels of hydrocarbons and metals below those necessary to constitute a public health hazard.
But a release from the Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Health Department said the level of pollutants do "pose ecological concerns," particularly in the cove of the lake, but not the main body of the lake. Further testing of samples is still underway.
The release said remediation needs to continue.
The release suggests more questions than it answers and we've sought input from some experts.
UPDATE FROM LINDSEY: Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Deputy Director Ryan Benefield said today that ADEQ released preliminary analysis today because of pressure from the public and the media. He said it was important for the state to provide the initial take on what soil and sediment sampling around the area where oil spilled means.
“One thing [ADEQ] knows is that without putting out this information, someone will fill that void. So we think it’s important that the public hears from the department and the Department of Health on our review as opposed to not having something from their state government,” he said.
PUT GOVERNMENT BACK TO WORK: That's Dustin McDaniel's message to U.S. Rep. Tim "Pipeline" Griffin.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has written U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin to urge him to get the government reopened. The shutdown is hampering investigation of the lawsuit McDaniel and the Justice Department have filed over the ExxonMobil pipeline break that inundated a Mayflower subdivision with Canadian tar sands. The damage has forced people out of their homes, two of which have been razed because of continuing contamination.
Here's the full letter. McDaniel told Griffin that shutdown furloughs have cut deeply into federally financed state work as well as federal agencies. Affected:
* 19 employees of the state Hazardous Waste Division have been furloughed, including two working on the Mayflower spill.
* 5 of 8 attorneys at the Department of Environmental Quality are no longer at work.
* The work of the environmental testing lab has been disrupted.
* Two-thirds of the federal Justice Department's civil division have been furloughed.
* The federal pipeline safety agency faces huge furloughs.
"The reality is that this shutdown is very bad for the citzens of Mayflower and for our state," McDaniel wrote.
Griffin normally would be at least secretly, if not publicly, thrilled at anything that impinges on the work of environmental regulators. He's worked against environmental protection from Alaska, as a private consultant, to the Midwest, where he hopes to see the environmentally perilous Keystone XL pipeline built. He's helped reduce federal spending on pipeline safety. After an initial opening defense of Exxon after the Mayflower deluge, he's styled himself as the defender of local people and has been cast permanently in that role by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Maybe they should give McDaniel a call now and then, too.
President Obama this afternoon urged House Republicans to put the government back to work. Said CNN:
Obama said Congress should vote to raise the debt ceiling when it votes to reopen the government. Failing to raise the debt ceiling "would be dramatically worse" than a government shutdown, he said.
The president warned that if Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling, "every American could see their 401ks and home values fall," and the country would see a "very significant risk" of a deep recession.
CONTAMINATED: A pile of rubble was all that remained Monday after ExxonMobil demolished a home it bought in a Mayflower subdivision so it could get at tar sands deposits underneath the foundation following the pipeline break.
Conway lawyer Tom Mickel provides a copy of another lawsuit against ExxonMobil over the pipeline break that spewed Canadian tar sands in a Mayflower subdivision and leaked into wetlands and a cove of Lake Conway.
It is in state court and has 64 plaintiffs from the Mayflower and Lake Conway area.
Here's the lawsuit. It alleges negligence, creation of a nuisance, trespass and violation of solid waste law, among others. It contains a good recitation of events and pipeline operational history.
By the way: If there was ever much doubt of where establishment Conway sympathies lie when it comes to Big Oil — if the ExxonMobil-friendly operation of the so-called unified command hadn't already alerted you — it came on learning from the Democrat-Gazette that Jamie Gates had been engaged by ExxonMobil to be a liaison with aggrieved residents. Some liaisoning is needed, given the secrecy with which ExxonMobil sat on news about infiltration of oil beneath houses in the ground-zero subdivision. Gates is a vice president of the Conway chamber of commerce and the Conway Development Corp., the secretive power behind the curtain in Conway and a tireless cheerleader for the fracking industry, no matter now many roads it tears up or how many of its waste pits leak. He's a nice guy and will be accessible. But if residents wonder whose bidding he's doing — theirs or Big Oil — they need only follow the money. I'm surprised today's D-G account lacked the obligatory self-honoring quote from U.S. Rep. Tiny Tim Grifin. Wasn't he shocked and dismayed to learn that the Exxon knew of oil beneath the homes of Mayflower residents, but didn't pass the info along, as the D-G reported? But Tim G. can't be everywhere at once. He was busy yesterday, I read elsewhere, staking out some positive attention for himself in the D-G's Big Bend rescue story.
Courtney Spradlin of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway has posted on Twitter the photos above of a house coming down at 32 N. Starlite in the Mayflower subdivision fouled by the burst ExxonMobil pipeline carrying Canadian tar sands. I'm surprised Tiny Tim Griffin didn't get in the shot with a prepared statement on his newfound interest in accountability for Big Oil. He's too busy working on either a) keeping the government shut down or b) another tar sand pipeline through Nebraska. Not to worry: the daily newspaper will have its obligatory self-serving Griffin quote tomorrow.
Two houses are coming down today; negotiations continue on what's to be done about other houses in the subdivision. Even Exxon says it's the only way in the case of these two houses to be sure the cleanup is complete near ground zero of the spill.
The first house, at 32 North Starlite, was acquired by Mobil Pipeline Co. on Aug. 26 for $151,000, according to assessor's records. Charles Williams bought the house in 2009 for $130,000. It was gone in an hour or so. The second house, at 36 N. Starlite, was purchased Aug. 21 by Mobile Pipeline for $177,000. It had been bought in April 2012 for $180,000 by Daneshia Roberts-Modica and Jose Modica, again all according to assessor records.
When reading a news article this morning, I naturally thought of Tiny Tim Griffin, the Big Oil champion, and his burning desire to move Canadian tar sands through the U.S. via a new pipeline that will cross sensitive aqufiers in a broad swath of the central United States.
A major tar sands producer is now draining a lake in Alberta because of a persistent leak of tens of thousands of barrels of the gooey mess. They hope to fix the leak. And refill the lake. You'd fish in it then, wouldn't you? The story claims no environmental harm from the leak to the lake, !?
I guess ExxonMobil could just dump its oily waste from the Mayflower pipeline break in Lake Conway. It'll just settle on down to the bottom with no ill effect. Right?
The Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group (FCCAG) has held a town hall meeting each month since the Pegasus pipeline ruptured at the end of March. The group's meeting yesterday at Hendrix College was different from past meetings because of the presence of Dr. William Mason, the lead official from the state Department of Health (ADH) for the Mayflower response. The citizens' group said it invited ADH officials to come to each of the four previous town halls but received no response until — according to FCCAG board member Emily Harris — community members publicly forced the issue with Mason at a recent ADH meeting. An audience of about 50 assembled in Hendrix's wood-paneled Reeves Recital Hall to hear six hours of presentations by Mason and others. About half of those in attendance were Hendrix students who cleared out after a couple of hours, leaving behind Mayflower residents and other activists who have been pressing this issue for months.
Mayflower families said they continue to suffer alarming symptoms as a result of exposure to the gasses released from the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spilled in their community. They point to the presence of high ratios of volatile solvents in this particular petroleum blend, including toxic chemicals such as benzene that are known to cause respiratory ailments, neurological problems and cancer. Residents with the FCCAG allege ADH was grossly negligent in not evacuating the community from contact with the vapors released by the spill.
But Mason said that ADH did everything correctly, and that Mayflower's atmospheric levels of benzene were always well within the exposure amounts one could expect to find in a polluted urban center. In his presentation, Mason said that an ADH team of epidemiologists were on site the morning after the rupture, performing air quality tests to determine whether a larger evacuation needed to happen. Such tests continued on a daily basis in multiple locations around town for days afterwards. The department also established and publicized a poison control hotline for Mayflower residents.
Mason offered an alternative explanation for the symptoms some are experiencing: post-traumatic stress disorder due to the physical, economic, and psychological toll of dealing with the disaster. When asked directly by a resident whether ADH would have ordered a larger evacuation knowing what is known now, Mason replied, "no."
Residents were not satisfied. They insisted their symptoms are the direct result of exposure; many said that their headaches and nausea began hours after exposure to the oil fumes, which is long before they suspected they weren't safe. A later speaker, environmental consultant David Lincoln, said that the majority of volatile chemicals may have evaporated in the first few of hours after the spill — before ADH's air quality sampling equipment was on the scene. Emily Harris, the FCCAG organizer, says that ADH needs "a reality check." The health screenings the state recently began conducting are inadequate, she said. She knows exactly what she wants to happen next: an independent, comprehensive county-wide study of health quality. What would a post-Pegasus study find, she asks?
Juanita's, the venerable Tex-Mex restaurant and music venue, is leaving the South Main Street location it's called home since 1986 for the River Market and the former home of Bill St., 614 President Clinton Ave.