Karen Tyrone, vice president of ExxonMobil Pipeline Company, is coordinating ExxonMobil’s efforts in Mayflower, Arkansas, to clean up the spill site. (Overall cleanup operations are being led by a Unified Command, which includes federal, state and local officials, as well as ExxonMobil.) I’ve asked Karen to give an update on the Mayflower cleanup. – Ken
It’s been a little more than a month since the breach of the Pegasus Pipeline that spilled oil in the Mayflower community, and a lot of progress has been made.
All of the freestanding oil has been recovered. We have protected nearby Lake Conway from the spill. And we are transitioning activities from emergency response and cleanup to remediation while working to get residents back into their homes.
I want to take this opportunity to clear up a couple of misconceptions about our cleanup efforts that have been making the rounds on social media – in blogs and on Twitter.
The first is a claim that ExxonMobil’s cleanup efforts haven’t been aggressive enough, that we’ve merely been throwing “paper towels” at the problem.
Not true. We have been using specially-engineered absorbent pads, standard for this type of oil recovery, that are both oleophilic and hydrophobic. That means they attract and absorb oil, while repelling water. In fact, if you dunked one of these pads in a bucket of water, it would be dry when you took it out. Yet oil will cling to it. That’s what makes these towels useful – and on the cutting edge – for cleaning up a spill.
And this is just one of the many methods and pieces of equipment the hundreds of dedicated ExxonMobil workers and contractors – working day-and-night, seven-days-a-week – have been using to remove the oil from the environment. More than 100,000 man-hours have been logged as part of the effort, and we have deployed dozens of powerful vacuum trucks, skimmers, swamp track hoes and even specially-designed machinery unique to this recovery.
The second misconception involves a report we submitted to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which the Sierra Club has used to incorrectly claim that 3,000 barrels of crude are missing and haven’t been recovered.
Federal regulations require us within 30 days of the incident to provide as much information as is known. In the report the Sierra Club cites, we estimated that 5,000 barrels of oil were released and that 2,000 barrels of oil had been recovered.
The estimated volume of oil recovered was a preliminary figure that includes only recovered oil currently measured in liquid tanks. Oil recovered in the form of oiled soil, vegetation and debris (which includes absorbent booms, pads and wipes) cannot be accounted for as easily, and therefore was not included in this estimate.
These preliminary estimates will be revised as the investigation is finalized, but the broader point is that there is no “missing” oil.
Getting residents back home
The cleanup efforts are ongoing and will continue until the job is done. I’ve given my word we’re going to be here until we have restored the community to its original beauty. But people should know that we have made significant progress toward making things right, from removing the oil and repairing the pipeline to eventually landscaping and beautifying the impacted area.
One of our biggest goals is to get the families displaced by the spill back in their homes as soon as is safely possible. And there is progress on that front as well. The Unified Command is initiating a reentry plan for the evacuated residents in the Northwoods subdivision to return home over the next few weeks. We are meeting with residents this coming week to share the details of their reentry plan. We are also distributing the terms of ExxonMobil’s property purchase and price protection program.
Nobody is happy this incident occurred. But one month in, I have been gratified by the efforts put forth by so many people – including the first responders, government officials, community leaders, environmental advocates and ExxonMobil employees and contractors – to rally together to make a unified cleanup effort possible.
More than that, I am grateful for the patience and understanding displayed by the wonderful people of Mayflower. Quite frankly, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the local community – the welcome they have shown us – in light of the circumstances. I speak for everyone working on the cleanup in saying we won’t be satisfied until we can give them back the beautiful community they know and love.