The unsuspecting small town of Mayflower, Arkansas, found itself thrust into the limelight for undesirable reasons late on Friday when its surrounding area was swamped by thousands of barrels of oil following an explosion of an Exxon pipeline nearby.

Even as heavy crude from Canada, called ‘Wabasca’, spewed from the Pegasus pipeline and blackened parts of the region near Mayflower, fears about another proposed pipeline carrying Canadian oil, the Keystone XL, were renewed.

By late Sunday, officials were still unable to confirm how much oil had spilled out of the pipeline, which typically carries more than 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas. Exxon said that 12,000 barrels of oil and water had been recovered but also did not provide an estimate of the oil-water proportions within that figure.

Reuters quoted Allen Dodson, the top executive for the Faulkner County, where the spill occurred, as saying, “The freestanding oil on the street has been removed. It’s still damp with oil, it’s tacky, like it is before we do an asphalt overlay.” Exxon added that it had staged the response to handle 10,000 barrels of oil “to ensure adequate resources are in place”.

Further, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration were reportedly “on site to investigate the spill”, and 15 vacuum trucks remained on the scene for cleanup along with 33 storage tanks deployed to store the oil. The EPA has categorised the rupture as a “major spill”, Exxon said, and 22 homes were reportedly evacuated following the incident.

Opposition to Keystone

Meanwhile, groups opposing the development of the 800,000 bpd Keystone XL pipeline, which the U.S. State Department is still deliberating on, reiterated their warnings about its potential environmental risks. Keystone, if given the green light, will run from Canada’s tar sands to a Gulf Coast refining hub.

The proposal was challenged with lawsuits from oil refineries and criticism from environmentalists and some members of the U.S. Congress. While President Barack Obama rejected the pipeline application “amid protests about the pipeline’s impact on Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region”, in January last year, just two months later, in March , he said he would “make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done”.

Meanwhile, on the Arkansas spill this week, reports quoted Congressman Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, saying “Whether it’s the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, or … [the] mess in Arkansas, Americans are realising that transporting large amounts of this corrosive and polluting fuel is a bad deal for American taxpayers and for our environment.”

The spill in Mayflower comes shortly after Exxon was slapped with a $1.7m fine by regulators over a 2011 spill in the Yellowstone River. In that incident Exxon’s Silvertip pipeline, carrying 40,000 bpd of crude in Montana, leaked nearly 1,500 barrels of oil into the river.

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