While Exxon Spins on Mayflower Tar Sands Spill Cleanup, Oil Threatens Fishing Lake and Arkansas River

Read time: 3 mins

ExxonMobil would sure like you to think that everything is just fine down in Mayflower, Arkansas. That the roughly 5,000 barrel tar sands crude spill was regrettable, but the town will be soon restored to its unspoiled state. That, in terms of clean up, they’re totally on it.

I mean, just look at their workers scrubbing away on the oiled ducks and turtles in this sleek little video:

ExxonMobil is so eager for you to see these images of their toothbrush-wielding sudsy soap brigade that they paid to promote the videos on Twitter. For at least two days earlier this month, anyone searching or tracking the #noKXL tag on Twitter would’ve seen this:

The Unified Command cleanup operations continue to transition from emergency response to the longer-term work of remediation and restoration,” reads a press release from Tuesday, comfortingly. The worst is behind us. We got through it. Now watch us release these ten ducks back into the lake.

And as for those less fortunate animals that didn’t survive the spill, well don’t worry about that: “the majority of the impacted wildlife have been reptiles, mostly venomous snakes.” Just scary snakes! Seriously, they wrote that.

And don’t worry about Lake Conway either. The oil was stopped before reaching the “main body” of the lake, one of the most popular fishing and recreation spots in the region.

Except, back in the real world, oil had reached a cove in the lake. “”I don't understand where this distinction is coming from. …The cove is part of Lake Conway,” Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel told reporters, as reported by InsideClimate News.

Meanwhile, a private company running water tests is sounding a much harsher alarm. “Yes, there’s oil in Lake Conway and there’s oil downstream flowing into the Arkansas River,” said Scott Smith, president and CEO of Opflex Solutions, a water quality testing and oil cleanup company.

Smith explains that while ExxonMobil is only testing the surface and bottom of the lake, his tests take a full “fingerprint” of the whole water column.

Obviously, as the head of an oil cleanup company, Smith has some vested interest in these results, and we’re working to get a look at their findings. Opflex told me, “The results are still preliminary and we are not releasing official reports at this time, but will release findings as they come.”

In the meantime, here’s a video produced by the Opflex team on the ground in Mayflower, so you can judge for yourself.

Local station KATV has also reported about the Opflex results, and has accounts from Mayflower residents of oil and oil-coated wildlife sightings in areas where ExxonMobil claims that the oil never reached. 

As we learned in the Enbridge Kalamazoo River spill, the “dilbit disaster,” diluted bitumen is much harder to clean up than conventional crude, in large part because it sinks in bodies of water and doesn’t float for easy retrieval.

Knowing that the oil spilled from Pegasus was a heavy tar sands crude (referred to by ExxonMobil as Wabasca Heavy crude but considered tar sands by authorities in Canada), it stands to reason that surface tests wouldn’t be enough to determine if a body of water was truly free of tar sands oil.

We will follow up with the final Opflex results when we have them. 

Photo: Opflex

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I wonder if that dude in the photo wears a mask like that when he's filling up his SUV?

He's not looking at oil like we put in our cars or even crude.  He's touching dilbit, and the stuff is noxious;



When I was in University, we were ordered to wear gloves when working with those chemicals.

The worst of those chemicals are called diluent (to dilute and make pipe flow possible).  Enbridge says, “If released to the atmosphere, all hydrocarbons that are commonly transported in petroleum pipelines present some degree of breathing hazard depending on the product and exposure.”


According to the Canadian government, Canada will become net importers of diluent in 2013;


Industry info;


They are needed in great quantities from America's hated enemies.  If America wants fuel from the tar sands, it will only be able to do so with the permission of its hated enemies, like Iran and Venezuela.


So Chas… By supporting the oil sands, you support oppressive regimes communists and the like.  I don't think that's very Canadian or American, but if you're into goose stepping for your leader, maybe buy a brown shirt or something… far be it for me to disagree.

I think it would hilarious if an environmental organization kindly distributed those WHIMIS sheets along any proposed pipeline routes. I think it would also be useful to point out where they can find all the required safety gear. (Hint hint, but I don't know environmental groups myself.)

To my thinking, land owners have the only say here.

And I think they really need to see what will be all over their land if something goes wrong.  Then they also need to know that its really disruptive to their lives and they won't be better off for it.  (Arkansas Exxon Lawsuit.)

The best part is that technically, this safety info isn't anti oil.  Frankly it should be required.  Don't folks who show up at a toxic dump have to take safety training?  Why don't land owners?  Shouldn't we be warning our kids not to play in this stuff?

The Arkansas Times, a weekly newspaper, and the Pulitzer-Prize winning InsideClimate News are raising funds to put two reporters on the ground full-time in Mayflower to cover this complex story. The oil spill has implications beyond Mayflower: The Pegasus Pipeline runs within feet of Central Arkansas's water supply, Lake Maumelle. If you are interested in knowing more and helping us, go here: