Mayflower Investigation Extension and Disputes Over Lake Bed Testing

Jun 5, 2013

Credit KLRT/ Fox 16 Facebook Page

A report is expected to be complete in about a week and a half on what caused the rupture of an oil pipeline, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw crude in Mayflower.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration says ExxonMobil requested an extension to PHMSA's April 2nd Corrective Action Order allowing 45 days for Exxon to complete its inspection of the pipe.

The official, who did not want to be named, said the report looking into the cause of rupture, which caused a 22-foot long gash in the pipeline, will be completed within a week and a half.  It’s unknown yet if that will be immediately made public.

Meanwhile it has been over two months since the spill and some residents are still reporting symptoms associated with chemical exposure.

One of the concerns is the level of contamination in Lake Conway. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality lists all tests on its website and none have been conducted of the lake bed or beneath it.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel seemed to suggest otherwise in an interview with KUAR.  He is leading a state investigation into the spill and says testing has been done beneath the cove in Lake Conway.

McDaniel says he has “total confidence” in the ADEQ and says testing of the lake bed and its subsurface doesn’t show an excessive amount of oil.

"ADEQ has consistently said that the majority of the product has floated and that lowering the boom for either drainage of the cove or for testing purposes, if they get subsurface they're not getting so far, at least at last report to me, substantial amounts of oil. Which is good because it makes it easier to clean up. And also raises the question if it's bitumen tar sands why isn't it sinking, or are we testing in the right places," McDaniel said.

Most testing since the oil spill has been conducted by the EPA or contractors for ExxonMobil.  The ADEQ has only done 11 of the 64 tests.

According to the department’s Deputy Director, Ryan Benefield, testing has been done beneath the surface of the water, but not beneath the surface of the lake. However, the department plans to begin testing the lake bed in the future.

"There has been some soil samples done in different parts of the response clean up but not yet in the water in the lake itself, or in the cove of the lake. So, we have done subsurface in the water column, of water, but no sediment samples have been taken in the lake," Benefield said.

Independent researcher and environmental scientist, Wilma Subra, who received a MacArthur Genius Grant for her research into the health hazards of oil and chemical spills, says the chemical property of tar sands bitumen oil causes it to sink over time and that no subsurface tests have been collected.  She says that needs to be done to make an accurate assessment of the contamination of the lake.

"As this crude starts off-gassing it starts losing its ability to float and starts going subsurface. And they're not collecting any subsurface, or bottom samples," Subra said.

In response to McDaniel’s claim of a relatively unharmed lake bed, Subra says there is no evidence to support such a claim and that her analysis and independent testing shows the presence of harmful chemicals associated with the "fingerprint" of the oil that spilled from the Pegasus Pipeline.

Subra said, "Well, if they want to tell us there's not very much down there they need to perform the sampling in the water column and demonstrate that it's not there."

If the oil has reached the bottom, as was the case in a tar sands spill along the Kalamazoo River, she says it presents a new set of ecological, public health, and clean-up challenges. It also brings into question the methodology and reporting of information concerning health factors in Mayflower.