InsideClimate News, Arkansas Times Reach Funding Goal to Conduct Oil Spill Investigation

An innovative national-local collaboration to investigate the Exxon oil spill in Mayflower, Ark., raises more than $25,000 in about three weeks.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel views the damage from Exxon's oil spill in Mayflower following the Mar. 29 pipeline rupture. Credit: The Arkansas Times

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BROOKLYN, N.Y.—InsideClimate News and the Arkansas Times reached the fundraising target for their innovative reporting collaboration after a three-week campaign. Two reporters will soon be on the ground to investigate the causes and consequences of the Exxon pipeline spill in Mayflower, Ark. that occurred last Mar. 29.

The online fundraising effort that raised $26,790 was run on, a non-profit crowdfunding platform. About 260 people contributed to the campaign with an average donation of approximately $100.

“It’s inspiring to see readers take ownership of the First Amendment,” said David Sassoon, publisher of InsideClimate News. “This is the first time we’ve tried crowdfunding, and we are quite gratified by the response.”

ExxonMobil has yet to explain what caused the 22-foot-long gash in the pipeline, and no one knows how much oil was actually spilled. As InsideClimate News reported last week, the oil company is insisting that the results of the line inspection it conducted are off limits to the public.

That leaves two critical questions unanswered: Did Exxon manage and test its broken Pegasus pipeline according to established guidelines? And, if it did, is the Arkansas accident a warning that other pipelines might be at risk?

The spilled oil includes toxic chemicals such as benzene, hydrogen sulfide and toluene—and dozens of area residents have complained of headaches, stomachaches, nasal bleeding and hives.

The question of pipeline safety is especially pertinent nationally as the debate continues over the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry heavy Canadian crude oil to the Texas coast. The Keystone would cross the Ogallala aquifer, one of the nation’s most important sources of drinking and agricultural water. ExxonMobil’s 850-mile Pegasus pipeline travels through the Lake Maumelle watershed, the source of drinking water for more than 400,000 Central Arkansans.

The federal agency that regulates pipelines has declined to provide to Arkansas officials, or to the public, information that Exxon has filed about the integrity of the Pegasus line.

Two reporters will lead the reporting from the ground. Elizabeth McGowan was part of the InsideClimate News team that won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for its examination of the 2010 Michigan spill. Sam Eifling is an Arkansas native who has written for Slate, Columbia Journalism Review and other prestigious publications.  

“By combining their talents, Elizabeth and Sam will be able to examine every aspect of this spill,” said Susan White, executive editor for InsideClimate News. “Their work will be important not just to the people of Mayflower but also to people in other communities where oil has spilled into residential neighborhoods.”

“We are thrilled that readers recognize that reporters and editors need time and financial support to dig into complicated stories where transparency isn’t exactly forthcoming,” said McGowan. “We look forward to being on the ground in Mayflower so we can dig in and shine a light into all of these dark corners.”

Eifling and McGowan will work with photographers, videographers and graphic designers as well as staffers who are experts in Arkansas politics, pipeline regulations and the science of chemical spills. They’ll file regular dispatches from the scene as well as longer features, and InsideClimate News and the Arkansas Times will publish their stories jointly. The two publications will stay with the story as long as it takes to get answers to the most pressing questions.