Hours after pictures like the one at right began appearing on the Internet, showing the scope of the Exxon pipeline oil spill in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, the Federal Aviation Administration clamped a no-fly zone over the town. The FAA order is to be in effect “until further notice,” and exempts only aircraft under the supervision of an Exxon employee. Any questions about who owns America?
The 65-year-old pipeline running through Mayflower, on the shores of Lake Conway and three miles from the Arkansas River, ruptured on March 29, sending rivers of oily sludge through the yards and streets of people who had no idea they lived anywhere near a pipeline. Two dozen homes had to be evacuated, and many families will be out of their homes for weeks to come.
Exxon workers have so far collected nearly a million gallons of mixed oil and water, and say their cleanup is about half complete. (See the video shot just before the clampdown here.)
The media persist in mis-identifying the spilled material as “crude oil,” or “heavy crude.” In fact it is dilbit, or diluted bitumen, the product wrested from the tar sands of Alberta. This is a critical distinction for a number of reasons:
dilbit is far more acidic than crude oil, which means that it corrodes metal faster, which raises questions about transporting it in a 65-year-old pipeline (that was repurposed after decades of carrying oil north from Texas);
dilbit is much thicker than crude, and in addition to being diluted must be heated to make it flow through a pipeline. Heat also accelerates corrosion by acid;
as the dilbit damages the pipeline much more than crude, so it does the environment through which it flows on release from the pipeline;
dilbit is the product to be transported by the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline to be built across the American heartland to supply Texas refineries making products for export. The project is under review by the federal government, and Big Oil wants it approved.
The last thing Big Oil wants right now is pictures of acidic oil running through American streets to appear on American screens. Thanks to its wholly-owned and -operated federal government, it need not fear.