A key piece of data related to the biggest tar sands oil spill in U.S. history has disappeared from the Environmental Protection Agency's website, adding to confusion about the size of the spill and possibly reducing the fine that the company responsible for the accident would be required to pay.
The July 2010 accident on an Enbridge Inc. pipeline dumped thousands of barrels of Canadian dilbit into the Kalamazoo River and surrounding wetlands. But almost three years and two federal investigations later, one of the most important questions about the spill remains unanswered: Exactly how much oil spilled from the pipeline?
The same question is being asked about a more recent dilbit spill—a March 29 accident on ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark. Estimates for that spill, which is still being cleaned up, have risen from 80,000 gallons to more than 200,000 gallons.
Determining the size of an oil spill is important, because every barrel of oil that reaches a navigable waterway triggers a statutory fine of $1,100 per barrel under the Clean Water Act. The fine rises to $4,300 per barrel if a company is proven to have acted with gross negligence.
It has been more than a month now, and Amber Bartlett has had enough of hotels and apartments and trailer homes. Of crowded rooms whose thin walls amplify the bickering of her four children. Of piles of toys and clothes overflowing from drawers and suitcases. Of not knowing, day to day, where her life is headed.
She wants to be back in her five-bedroom, three-bathroom home at 16 Starlite Road North in Mayflower, Ark.
Ryan Senia, the Bartletts' next-door neighbor, is plenty ready to go home, too. For the past month the 29-year-old electrical engineer has been sleeping on a friend's couch instead of in his bed at 20 Starlite Road North. His power tools and equipment are gathering dust in his garage. His grill sits in his backyard, unused.
The Bartletts and Senia are among 21 families who were evacuated from their homes on March 29, after an ExxonMobil pipeline spilled at least 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil into their neighborhood.
When Renee McPherson took on the role of director of research at the South Central Climate Science Center last year, she had no idea that she’d soon be grappling with budget cuts that threatened her ability to support regional climate research or hire new graduate students and faculty—the premise of hosting the center in the first place.
The facility McPherson runs out of the University of Oklahoma is among eight centers created between 2010 and 2012 by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The goal was to bring together federal, academic and on-the-ground experts who could pursue climate change research at the local level.
But then came the sequester, the Congressional mandate that slashed federal budgets across the board.
For the first time in human history, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are expected to pass 400 parts per million across much of the Northern Hemisphere in May, according to scientists who study data from the Mauna Loa Observatory, the world's longest-running CO2 monitoring station.
While crossing the 400 ppm mark isn't a "tipping point" that signals climate catastrophe, scientists told InsideClimate News, it is an important symbolic milestone that underscores government inaction on global warming.
"This is another global emissions target that we've blown past without doing anything," said Jim Butler, director of global monitoring at NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory. "Stronger storms, droughts, rising seas. We are already seeing the impacts of increased CO2 in the atmosphere ... How much further can we really go?" The NOAA lab operates the Mauna Loa Observatory and dozens of other greenhouse gas monitoring sites across the globe
One month after a 65-year-old ExxonMobil pipeline burst without warning and dumped Canadian tar sands oil in the town of Mayflower, Ark., government investigators and residents are still looking for answers to basic questions about the spill.
When did the pipeline begin leaking? When and how did the oil company find out about it? How quickly did the company act? How much oil spilled from the pipeline's 22-foot-long gash? And what condition was the line in before it ruptured?
The unanswered questions are urgent because they speak to issues of pipeline safety and enforcement as thousands of miles of new and reconfigured pipelines—including the Keystone XL—are being proposed to run across the United States.
A State Department official confirmed that for the first time the department will make public all the public comments received on its draft environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL pipeline.
In an email to InsideClimate News, the official, who requested anonymity, said the comments would be posted on Regulations.gov.
"Although the volume of comments will be extraordinarily high, the posting will maximize transparency," the official said. "We are working on the technical details and exact timing of posting the comments."
Federal agencies have so far not decided whether to undertake an assessment of the ecological harm caused by ExxonMobil's pipeline break, which spewed a tarry oil slick into yards, streets and creeks in a central Arkansas town.
For now, they're leaving it to state agencies to decide whether and how to quantify and counteract the environmental damage.
The rupture in the Pegasus pipeline on March 29 dumped up to an estimated 294,000 gallons of Canadian heavy crude in Mayflower, Ark.—including in a cove that flows into Lake Conway, a major fishing lake. If that estimate turns out to be correct, the Arkansas spill would be one-third the size of a 2010 Michigan pipeline spill, the worst accident of its kind in U.S. history.
WASHINGTON—The Canadian builder of the Keystone XL pipeline has lashed out at the Environmental Protection Agency for recommending that the United States and Canada work together to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from the tar sands crude that the pipeline would carry to refineries on the U.S. gulf coast.
The suggestion "ignores the fundamental sovereignty of the Canadian government," said Shawn Howard, a TransCanada spokesman, in a message to reporters on Tuesday.
The EPA made its recommendation on Monday in a scathing critique of the State Department's latest environmental impact study, part of the process of deciding whether to grant the pipeline a presidential permit. The study, released in March, suggested that the pipeline would have no significant environment impact. They called it "insufficient" and asked for significant changes to protect the environment.
Since launching an investigation into the Mayflower, Ark. oil spill on April 2, state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has pushed hard to resolve unanswered questions about the pipeline accident.
McDaniel, a Democrat in his second term as attorney general, caused a stir on April 3 when he insisted on touring the site of the spill with his staff instead of in a bus tour organized by ExxonMobil, the company responsible for the 210,000-gallon pipeline rupture. He drew attention again when he was among the first public officials to acknowledge that some of the oil had reached Lake Conway, a popular recreational area. And instead of relying solely on the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate the spill, he issued a subpoena that forced ExxonMobil to provide his office with documents about the pipeline and its operational history.
WASHINGTON—Leading environmental groups declared on Monday that the Obama administration's latest environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline fundamentally violated the nation's core environmental law, an unmistakable warning that they would sue the State Department if it continued to insist that the pipeline poses no significant environmental risk.
As if to bolster their case, the Environmental Protection Agency weighed in as well with its own rebuke, saying that it found "environmental objections" to the State Department's controversial draft environmental impact statement, issued in March, which it deemed "insufficient." A public comment period ended on Monday, and these were among the first comments released.
Industry groups, in their own comments, broadly endorsed the State Department's approach, which has been widely seen as offering a green light to Keystone, if not an immediate one. Months more of reviewing by the Obama administration lies ahead.