Several homeowners in a Little Rock suburb were evacuated over the weekend after a pipeline spilled an estimated 2,000 barrels (84,000 gallons) of tar sands bitumen in their neighborhood.
The oil, which is much heavier and more corrosive than regular crude, puddled in the streets and flowed along the gutters to a drainage ditch leading to Lake Conway. But booms and emergency clean up crews were able to contain the spill from contaminating the recreational lake.
The spill left a sticky residue and emitted a strong odor in the subdivision in Mayflower. Clean up by pipeline owner ExxonMobil is continuing; EPA officials say they’ll determine when it’s safe to allow homeowners to return.
Last week, a train derailment in Minnesota led to a similar tar sands oil spill of an estimated 26,000 gallons. Thanks to frozen ground, that spill did not threaten waterways and clean up was expected to be easier as a result.
Trains are used to transport oil because pipelines aren’t always available.
Experts worry that tar sands oil spills will become commonplace in the US as oil companies rush tar sands oil from Canada — which is heated and more corrosive than regular crude — onto existing pipelines ill-equipped to handle it. (The Natural Resources Defense Council has posted on blog on the risks from stressed pipeline infrastructure.)
The pipeline that ruptured outside of Little Rock dated to the 1940s.