Arkansas pipeline disaster a foreshadowing of Keystone XL nightmare?


The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline — which would take millions of barrels of oil extracted from the tar sands of Canada and ship them to refineries and ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast (where a lot would be shipped overseas, ironically) — has evolved over the last couple of years. At first, the worry was massive oil spills on U.S. soil, especially atop the environmentally sensitive Ogallala aquifer — but over time opponents have focused more on the greenhouse gases that would be produced by extracting and burning the tar sands. That’s still a big issue, no doubt about it — but this weekend we received a grim reminder of why we opposed Keystone XL in the first place:

Exxon Mobil on Sunday continued cleanup of a pipeline spill that spewed thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude in Arkansas as opponents of oil sands development latched on to the incident to attack plans to build the Keystone XL line.

Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said on Sunday that crews had yet to excavate the area around the pipeline breach, a needed step before the company can estimate how long repairs will take and when the line might restart.

“I can’t speculate on when it will happen,” Jeffers said. “Excavation is necessary as part of an investigation to determine the cause of the incident.”

Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline, which can carry more than 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas, was shut after the leak was discovered late Friday afternoon in a subdivision near the town of Mayflower. The leak forced the evacuation of 22 homes.

Tragically, this was only the larger of two — yes, two — spills involving the dirty tar sands fuel on American soil this Easter weekend:

Early last evening, news outlets reported that a train operated by Canadian Pacific Railway derailed, spilling 30,000 gallons of crude oil in western Minnesota. The train originated in western Canada and was bound for Chicago.

Yesterday’s reports from mainstream media were ambiguous as to whether the contents carried by the train was tar sands. At the time of publication of a Reuters article on the spill, a spokesperson for Canadian Pacific said “he did not know if the oil that spilled was tar sands.” However, Dan Olson, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, today confirmed to Tar Sands Blockade that the substance spilled is, indeed, tar sands from Alberta, Canada.

14 cars on a 94-car train derailed, near the town of Parkers Prairie, MN, 150 miles northwest of Minneapolis, spilling their contents. Due to the snow and extreme cold weather, the spilled tar sands is thicker and the clean-up process is likely to take longer.

As well as potentially affecting the health and safety of surrounding communities as far as the Twin Cities, the spill potentially threatens a thousand lakes in Otter Tail County, where the derailment occurred and where tar sands contamination of these vital waterways would be devastating.

For most environmental activists, the link between this weekend’s twin catastrophes is a no-brainer:

“For years, we’ve been saying that it’s just a matter of time before Keystone XL, if constructed, spills, bringing death and destruction to all in its route. The pipeline would also incentivize further tar sands growth and exploitation, signifying game over for livable communities and the planet,” said Tar Sands Blockade.

“In addition to hazardous spills, according to EPA, the global warming impact of building the Keystone pipeline is the equivalent to over four million cars or six coal-fired power plants. For the sake of the health and safety of our environment, we ask President Obama and the State Department to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and to oppose other tar sands projects, like the pipeline that would take tar sands oil through Sebago Lake in Maine,” said Dan Gatti, Environment America’s Get Off Oil program director.

Allow me to add my own voice. If the Obama administration signs off on the ill-advised Keystone XL project, we will have a pipeline slicing through the American heartland that will be carrying nine times — let me repeat that, nine times — as much tar sands oil as the one that ruptured this weekend in Arkansas. And such an accident might well occur over a major source of drinking water for the Midwest. In other words, we would be looking at another Deepwater Horizon scenario — only this time on land. Hopefully this will at least serve as a wake-up call to Washington, that this is a risk that America simply cannot afford. 

For news of the major pipeline accident in Arkansas, please read:

To read more about the toxic tar sands derailment and spill in Minnesota, please read:

To discover more from EcoWatch on how the accidents are fueling the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, please read:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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