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Proposed by oil company TransCanada, the 36-inch Keystone XL pipeline would run more than 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada, to refineries near the Texas/Louisiana border, pushing 800,000 barrels per day of heavy diluted bitumen from Canada's "tar sands" region to the Gulf of Mexico. The project has become an environmental and political football, with critics of Keystone XL saying that construction will disrupt sensitive areas, increase the possibility of a catastrophic spill, as well as boost the supply of tar sands oil, which the National Wildlife Federation calls "one of the most polluting and carbon-intensive fuels in the world."
We met Moll on Friday of last week at the spillway on Bell Slough, a state Game and Fish property less than a mile south of the spill site. Nearby, a flock of buzzards ignored us, feasting on something unrecognizable. Moll and three friends had driven over from East Texas a few days before. Since then they had been canvassing the area, knocking on doors, talking to residents about their health issues, and shooting photos and video to upload to the web. The day after we talked to him, Moll and several activists slipped into the cove area near I-40 and shot photos and video of a lake of gooey black goop, a flat bottom boat floating on top of it, that stretched away into the marsh scrub. One person who was there dipped his hand in, and it came out completely black with oil.
"A lot of the people who are right near the spill, even closer than some of those who were evacuated, didn't even get told about it and they are very sick," Moll claimed. "Some of them haven't even been able to talk to us because they can't come outside. We're going around today talking to people, going door-to-door."
Though ExxonMobil says that what spilled in Mayflower is conventional "heavy oil" (see sidebar), Moll contends it's the same kind of bitumen-heavy material that will flow through the Keystone XL pipeline. He said Mayflower should be a wake-up call for those who are on the fence or have never heard about Keystone XL.
"This stuff is not crude oil," he said. "It's a lot more dangerous than crude oil. It's harder to clean up. Crude oil floats so you can scrape it off the top of water or get it with a boom. Dilbit — diluted bitumen, or tar sands — sinks, so it can never really be cleaned up. We're seeing from the Kalamazoo River spill of 2010 that it still isn't cleaned up. People are still sick. People are still getting sick."
Annie Dill, a college student from Little Rock (disclosure: Dill is a student in the author's Fiction Writing class at UALR), was there when the photos of the marsh standing full of oil were taken last Saturday. She said the group had been given permission to walk into the area by the person who owned the property, but the property owner had warned them beforehand that having permission hadn't kept others from being run off by ExxonMobil workers. Dill called the sight of the wetland full of oil "horrifying,"
"We were like: 'Oh my God. This is supposed to be marshland,' " she said. "It smelled so bad." Earlier on Saturday, Dill and others found a mallard near Dam Road, its feathers and head matted with crude. Dill said when they called the ExxonMobil hotline to request someone pick up the duck so it could be cleaned, they were told it would be 24 hours before someone could respond. Dill said that after they called Arkansas Game and Fish and the HAWK wildlife rescue group in Russellville, a wildlife specialist with ExxonMobil eventually did come and pick up the duck, placing it in a plastic bin in a car trunk before driving away.
To read more about Wabasca heavy crude, click here.
To read more about ExxonMobil's Pegasus Pipeline, click here.