What leaked in Mayflower? 

Not tar oil, Exxon says.

Some Wabasca heavy crude is produced from the Wabiskaw oil sands formation in northeastern Alberta, Canada and contains dense bitumen — tar. It is so dense that it to pump it through conventional pipelines it must be diluted with other liquids, and is referred to as "diluted bitumen."

ExxonMobil, however, says that while the Wabasca heavy crude that leaked in Mayflower comes from the same Athabaskan formation in Canada that includes the Wabsika oil sands, it does not contain tar.

ExxonMobil posted a story April 5 on its website, exxonmobilperspectives.com, called "Five Lies They're Telling You about the Mayflower Pipeline Spill." The company writes: "The crude that spilled is Wabasca heavy oil and it's from Alberta near the area where there is oil sands production. It's produced by conventional production methods — in other words by drilling a well into the ground through which the oil flows — and diluted by a light oil to help it flow through the pipeline."

The difference is important: It's more difficult to clean tar sands oil from streams and lakes than conventional oil. The heavier compounds in bitumen oils can separate from their lighter components and sink to the bottom, mixing with sediments.

Bituminous or not, Wabasca crude is dangerous. The chemicals in Wabasca heavy, according to Exxon, include the toxic chemicals benzene, cyclohexane, ethyl benzene, hydrogen sulfide, n-hexane, naphthalene, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, sulfur, toluene and xylenes. It is extremely flammable; vapor accumulation can cause an explosion if ignited. Prolonged exposure may endanger health. It may cause cancer.

According to a Corrective Action Order issued to Exxon Pipeline Co. by the federal Environmental Protection Agency following the spill, a total of between 147,000 and 210,000 gallons of the stuff leaked into Mayflower's Northwoods Subdivision off Starlite Road when Exxon's 20-inch Pegasus pipeline burst the afternoon of March 29. The oil continued to flow until 3 a.m. March 30, after the valves, 18 miles apart, were shut.

The heavy crude flowed west along North Starlite Road into a ditch that followed the Union Pacific railroad line and then flowed east under Interstate 40 into a cove of Lake Conway.

The 858-mile Pegasus pipeline connects Patoka, Ill., with Nederland, Texas.

The density of Wabasca heavy could cause a whole new set of problems now that large amounts of it have reached the unnamed cove, which is south of state Highway 89. (The cove's culverts that allow water to enter the main body of Lake Conway have been blocked with plywood and gravel, according to Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the Game and Fish Commission, which owns the cove and lake.) Photos taken last weekend by activists who sneaked into an area near the cove that has been declared off-limits by ExxonMobil showed a johnboat floating on a veritable lake of heavy, black oil that stretched into a wetland. The EPA said Exxon has vacuumed up 16,329 barrels of oil and water from the site.

In July 2010, an Enbridge Co. pipeline break spilled 840,000 gallons of bitumen-heavy oil into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Mich. Three years later, Enbridge is still working to clean up that spill, with plans now calling for the dredging of large areas of the river to remove sediments contaminated with submerged oil.

At a press conference on April 6, Mark Weesner, ExxonMobil's on-scene coordinator in Mayflower, maintained he'd never heard the term "diluted bitumen."

Asked about whether ExxonMobil was monitoring the bottom of the cove to see if any petroleum has sunk, Weesner said there is a sampling program going on, with information being passed along to the Department of Health.


From the ArkTimes store

Comments (5)

Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-5 of 5

Add a comment

More by Leslie Newell Peacock

More by David Koon

People who saved…

Readers also liked…

  • The ballad of Fred and Yoko

    How one of the world's foremost Beatles collectors died homeless on the streets of Little Rock.
    • Mar 31, 2016
  • Big ideas for Arkansas 2015

    Readers and experts suggest ways to change Arkansas for the better.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • 2016 Best of Arkansas editors' picks

    A few of our favorite things.
    • Jul 28, 2016

Most Shared

  • 'Cemetery angel' Ruth Coker Burks featured in new short film

    Ruth Coker Burks, the AIDS caregiver and activist memorably profiled by David Koon as the cemetery angel in Arkansas Times in 2015, is now the subject of a short film made by actress Rose McGowan.
  • Buyer remorse

    Out here in flyover country, you can't hardly go by the feed store without running into a reporter doing one of those Wisdom of the Heartland stories.
  • Not Whitewater

    Just think: If Democrats had turned out 78,000 more votes in three states in November, people could be reveling today in the prospect of impeaching and convicting President Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, as some Republican lawmakers had promised to try to do if she won.
  • Head-shaking

    Another edition of so-much-bad-news-so-little space.

Latest in Cover Stories

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Parole and politics

    Will another high-profile crime derail parole reform?
  • Twenty

    Forgive The Observer a public love letter, Dear Reader. A gentleman never kisses and tells, but he is allowed to swoon a bit, and so we will. Last week made 20 years since we wed our beloved in her grandpa's little church way down in El Dorado, two dumb kids with nothing but our lives stretching out before us like an open road.
  • For universal health care

    While the U.S. Senate twists itself into a pretzel not passing a health care bill, I'm pleased to see that more and more people are looking seriously at universal health care.
  • 2017 Best of Arkansas editors' picks

    Pie, dog-chasing-geese watching, wrecked groceries, etc.
  • Best of Arkansas 2017

    Cream of the shops, and more

Most Recent Comments


© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation