Inside Story Americas

Where is the US oil industry heading?

As Arkansas residents suffer after exposure to chemicals from an oil spill, we ask if their concerns will be heard.

Last Modified: 05 Jun 2013 14:55
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In March of this year, a ruptured pipeline spewed more than 6,000 barrels of tar sands oil into a small Arkansas town called Mayflower.

We advocated very strongly early on for a centralised clinic in the community of Mayflower ... we did not have any luck getting that established and that is a whole other part to this problem.

April Lane, member of the Faulkner County Citizen's Advisory Group 

Since then, Exxon and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality have insisted that the town's air and water are safe. But residents say they are showing symptoms of exposure to toxic chemicals - such as headaches, vomiting and nausea.

And last month, Dustin McDaniel, the state's attorney general, said that samples show benzene, a carcinogen, is still present in the air and he has set up a hotline for residents to report any health issues

Moreover, this week, documents obtained by the environmental group, Greenpeace, show that Exxon downplayed the extent of the disaster.

Some documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show a draft press release from April 8, in which ExxonMobil claims "tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free." However, internal emails from just two days earlier show that Exxon was aware of benzene pollution in both the lake and cove.

And after criticism from the Arkansas Hazardous Waste division, ExxonMobil drafted another release saying, "tests on water samples show the main body of Lake Conway is oil-free."

"The data continues to show the main body of the lake has not been impacted," added the oil giant." All of the data is available for review on the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality website, including that taken and analysed by ADEQ."

Exxon wants Keystone XL to be built ... and what happened is an example of why that is a dangerous and wrong-headed move .... Especially that we don't know the specific cause for of the pipeline eruption.

Jesse Coleman, a Greenpeace researcher

Documents have been released showing Exxon's own data indicate that benzene levels in the lake had risen to six times what is permitted by federal standards.

It is also important to note that ExxonMobil made a distinction between the lake and the cove, whereas residents and Arkansas' Attorney General say they are all part of the same body of water.

The Mayflower oil spill has become another focal point for a raging debate on whether the US should expand the network of pipelines transporting this particularly toxic form of oil from the tar sands of Canada to refineries in the south.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has received a lot of attention from environmental groups and the media. But existing pipelines are already pumping tar sands oil through the US.

So, what will be the future of the US oil industry? Will the concerns of the Mayflower population be heard?

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses the issue with guests: April Lane, member of the Faulkner County Citizen's Advisory Group, which has been testing the air and water in Mayflower; Ruth Breech, programme director of Global Community Monitor, which helps communities monitor industrial pollution; and Jesse Coleman, a Greenpeace researcher.

"What they want to do is cover it up; they want this to be over .... They don’t want to have to deal with the residual issues ... "

Ruth Breech, programme director of Global Community Monitor


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