EARTHWORKS

I Call it an Oil Spill

Hilary Lewis's avatar
By Hilary Lewis

April 4, 2013

image

Crude spilling through neighborhoods in Mayflower, Arkansas

[Update: a recent blog from Exxon says that the oil spilled was not tar sands oil, but conventional crude, and is therefore subject to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund fee. The fee still does not apply to tar sands oil.]

A broken Exxon pipeline spilled more than 12,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil and water en route to the Gulf Coast on Friday, March 29. The spill ran through the neighborhoods of Mayflower, Arkansas, just north of Little Rock, and into nearby wetlands and rivers. 

We know pipelines break.

So what I'm most upset about is not that the pipeline broke, it's that Exxon doesn't have to pay the federal clean up fee.

That's right, after spilling thousands of gallons of tar sands oil into communities and ecosystems, coating wildlife and forcing 22 families to evacuate their homes, Exxon doesn't have to pay a dime. 

I swear I saw an oil spill!

But what about the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund created, seemingly, exactly for this purpose? Well, that doesn't apply here.

As it turns out, tar sands oil isn't oil, legally speaking. In a January 2011 memorandum, the IRS determined that Congress only intended to tax conventional crude, exempting tar sands oil. Considering tar sands oil anything other than oil is so crazy even Exxon calls it oil. Well, when it's not spilling into people's backyards and costing them 8 cents a barrel in clean up fees.

Which reminds me, the Keystone XL pipeline will carry the same stuff and be exempt from the same law. In case you wanted one more reason to oppose it.

Anyway, Exxon says they're going to clean up the spill, but history tells us they won't.

How did this happen?

Originally built in the 1940s, the Pegasus pipeline carried crude from Texas to Illinois, but the flow was reversed in 2006 to carry Canadian tar sands to Texas. The flow was also upped from 65,000 barrels to 95,000 barrels a day just a few years ago.

But aren't there regular inspections?

As we know, there aren't. The Arkansas Attorney General reiterated our point:

I've been told repeatedly that Exxon was up-to-date on their inspections and their inspections showed no cause for concern, but we have a pipeline that's 65 years old that ruptured in someone's yard, so either the inspections were not adequate or there was something that was completely beyond the ability to identify with an inspection, which I find very unlikely.

And he's opened an investigation into the spill.

Exxon owns the sky

On April 1st Exxon put icing on the cake... or I guess in the sky. They requested, and were granted, a FAA 'no fly zone' over the spill so that their helicopter can help with their clean up efforts.

Likely story. The no fly zone allows them to control access, specifically media access, to the spill, limiting public knowledge of the extent of the damage. 

Which brings me to my one sentence summary/conclusion: Exxon spilled thousands of gallons of dirty tar sands oil into neighborhoods and ecosystems, doesn't have to pay a dime and is hiding the evidence under a self-regulated no fly zone.


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Tagged with: xom, tar sands, oil spill, nokxl, exxon, arkansas

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