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Oil Pipeline Spills Heavy Crude in Arkansas

More than 12,000 barrels of oil spilled on Mayflower, Ark.

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Over the weekend, an oil pipeline burst in the middle of Mayflower, Arkansas. The leaking oil forced the evacuation of a few dozen homes and brought more than 100 workers from ExxonMobil, the company that owns the pipe, in for the clean-up response.

A flow of oil that was on its way from a pipeline hub in Illinois on its way to Texas sprung from the ground, says the City of Mayflower, dumping more than 12,000 barrels of oil and water into the street. (During a 2011 spill into the Yellowstone River, for which the Department of Transportation fined Exxon $1.7 million last week, 1,500 barrels of oil went into the river.)  The heavy oil, known as Wabasca Heavy crude, started its life in Canada’s tar sands developments.

Exposure to the heavy crude fumes can irritate the eyes, nose and respiratory tract and can cause headaches and possibly nausea. What causes respiratory irritation in healthy people can be dangerous for those with breathing difficulties, though. At the worst for a spill like this, heavy crude oil inhalation can cause a “depression of the central nervous system, cardiac sensitization, drowsiness, narcosis and asphyxia.

Over the weekend, says Reuters, Exxon turned off the pipeline and set to work cleaning up the oil. As of this morning, says Reuters, cleanup is still underway. To figure out what happened, and what drove the pipeline to burst, says Bloomberg, the company will be excavating the pipe.

More from Smithsonian.com:
UPDATED: The World’s Worst Oil Spills
Environmentalists Want To Keep Oil Platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Wait, What?

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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