On March 29, 2013, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying Canadian tar sands crude ruptured and spilled oil in the North Woods neighborhood of Mayflower, Ark., a town of 2,200 people located about 25 miles northeast of Little Rock.
Map of Mayflower, Ark. (red "A"), showing its proximity to key bodies of water. Lake Conway (upper right), a popular fishing area that covers 6,700 acres, is less than a mile from the spill area. Lake Maumelle (bottom left), the main drinking water source for central Arkansas, is about 10 miles from Mayflower.
The Pegasus pipeline that ruptured crosses some 13 miles of the Maumelle watershed, as well as the Arkansas River. So far, no oil has reached Lake Maumelle. Oil is in the cove area that flows into Lake Conway.
Source: Google maps
Map of the Pegasus pipeline, which runs 850 miles from Patoka, Ill. to Nederland, Texas. The section of the pipe involved in the spill in Arkansas was built in the 1940s. The line originally flowed north, from Texas to Illinois.
In 2006, it was reversed to carry Canadian tar sands crude to Gulf Coast refineries. In 2009, Exxon increased the line's capacity by 50 percent to more than 90,000 barrels a day by reactivating and enhancing pumping stations to push more dilbit through the 20-inch line.
Source: Rextag Strategies
The rupture in the Pegasus pipeline, seen here as the long black opening on top of the pipe, was 22 feet long and 2 inches wide. Between 200,000 and 420,000 gallons spewed out of the tear, thin as a mail slot, without warning.
Source: The Duncan Firm
Twenty-two homes in the North Woods neighborhood had to be evacuated. Displaced families told InsideClimate News they were "in shock" by the disaster that upended their lives.
Oil next to a home in Mayflower. The Pegasus was carrying Wabasca Heavy crude, a type of heavy oil made from bitumen mined in Canada's oil sands region. Because bitumen is too thick to flow through pipelines, it is diluted with natural gas liquids and turned into dilbit, or diluted bitumen.
Aerial view of the spill. EPA estimates that as many as 420,000 gallons of oil have leaked in the area. If this turns out to be correct, the Arkansas spill would be roughly a third the size of a 2010 Michigan pipeline spill, the largest dilbit spill in U.S. history.
Aerial view of boom deployed in the first days of the spill to try to contain the oil that flooded parts of the North Woods neighborhood, seen here on the bottom.
Oily areas between homes in Mayflower. Residents described the oil as smelling "acrid" or "like burning tires."
Danger sign blocks off an oil-filled stormwater drain or tributary near the main area of the spill.
This initial dam was erected to stop oil from entering Interstate 40, which runs through Mayflower. The most immediate concern, however, was keeping oil from Lake Conway.
Oil pools in a creek near the site of the pipeline rupture.
Branches and leaves dripping with oil in this crude-filled creek.
Pictured here is one of the first ducks, a Mallard hen, that was rescued from the spill site by the HAWK Center (Helping Arkansas Wild "Kritters"). The HAWK Center said "the tarry oil was so thick we weren't positive on what kind of duck she was underneath it all."
Source: HAWK Center
A duck coated in oil is rescued by a group of students and teachers from the University of Central Arkansas. Nutria, snakes, turtles and other small mammals have also been recovered. The HAWK center told local media the bitumen is carcinogenic and has caused blisters on the animals.
Source: UCA Oiled Wildlife Search Party
The incident command post of the cleanup operation. Exxon has maintained tight control over the command operation in Mayflower, even though the EPA is the designated on-scene coordinator.
A cleanup worker removes oil through a vacuum truck. The crude is also being cleaned up through pressure washing, use of absorbent pads and removal of contaminated soil and vegetation, according to Exxon.
Exxon says about 700 people are working to clean up the oil, with operations happening around the clock.
A Department of Transportation worker surveys oil between homes in Mayflower. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a part of the DOT, issued a corrective action order in the wake of the spill that clamps down on the 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline.
Air monitoring at a home in Mayflower. Separate air quality readings by Exxon and EPA show that levels are within safe limits outside of the spill area, though not in areas directly hit by the spill, where emergency responders and cleanup crews are working. Workers have breathing equipment for use.