When the pipeline breaks


There’ve been multiple reports over the last couple of days about officials in Arkansas restricting access — apparently upon orders from top officials at ExxonMobil — to news helicopters and other media photographers seeking to capture the full extent of the Pegasus pipeline spill  in Arkansas. Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made it clear why the oil giant didn’t want you to see what was going on, as it released official pictures of a subdivision-turned-hellscape that is Ground Zero for the spill of some 157,500 gallons or more of oil from the Canadian tar sands.

Here’s another perspective:

You can see more of the photographs here. Meanwhile, I want to call your attention to a couple of great essays this week that have been published about both the ongoing spill in Arkansas as well as what it all means for the ongoing fight against the much bigger Keystone XL pipeline proposal. The first is by the actor and environmentalist Robert Redford, who writes:

Let’s recap what happened in Arkansas and why it is such a timely reminder that tar sands expansion and tar sands pipelines hurt us. On March 29, Exxon’s Pegasus tar sands pipeline ruptured, flooding a suburban community outside of Little Rock, Arkansas with hundreds of thousands of gallons of tar sands crude. This toxic river of heavy tar sands bitumen and volatile petrochemical diluents is not a mix that anyone would want flowing in front of their houses.

So when it comes to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would take Canadian tar sands crude across America’s breadbasket to the Gulf Coast where much of it would be exported overseas, the Pegasus rupture in Arkansas is another red flag. We’ve had a lot of these red flags lately that show us what a raw deal tar sands is and we ignore them at our peril.

No doubt about it — the Keystone pipeline is the Big Kahuna here. A spill in that massive project — especially on environmentally sensitive lands like the Ogallala aquifer — could have a catastrophic impact. The great environmental activist Bill McKibben has a major essay on this, and it’s a must-read. He wonders if the Keystone battle will have the same impact for the climate change movement that the 1969 Stonewall riots has on the struggle for gay rights — and whether we have enough time:

 Unlike gay rights or similar issues of basic human justice and fairness, climate change comes with a time limit. Go past a certain point, and we may no longer be able to affect the outcome in ways that will prevent long-term global catastrophe. We’re clearly nearing that limit and so the essential cowardice of too many Democrats is becoming an ever more fundamental problem that needs to be faced. We lack the decades needed for their positions to “evolve” along with the polling numbers. What we need, desperately, is for them to pitch in and help lead the transition in public opinion and public policy.

While the ExxonMobil spill in Arkansas this week has been an abomination, let’s hope that at least it will serve as a wake-up call for the American political system on the dangers of Keystone XL and similar massive investments in dirty fuels. These poorly regulated and poorly constructed environmental blights are just dangerous for our climate, but they’re dangerous for our cul-de-sacs. 

You can find out more about the media’s restricted access to the Arkansas pipeline spill here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/exxon-impeding-reporters_n_3037237.html?utm_hp_ref=green

Check out additional government photos of the spill from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at: http://www.ibtimes.com/exxon-oil-spill-epas-official-photos-show-full-extent-damage-pegasus-pipeline-mayflower-ark-1177083

Please read Robert Redford’s essay on the Arkansas spill as well as the Keystone issue at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-redford/arkansas-oil-spill-keystone-pipeline_b_3038269.html?utm_hp_ref=green

 Also, check out Bill McKibben’s major essay on the importance of the Keystone XL fight:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/08/keystone-xl-pipeline-stonewall-climate-change

© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved

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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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