If the tar sands spilling from Exxon’s Arkansas pipeline isn’t oil, then what is it?

by Mark Floegel

April 3, 2013

Toxic Waste in the Alberta Tar Sands.

© Greenpeace / Colin O'Connor

Ive been to a few oil spills in my day and, sad to say, my day seems like it hasnt ended yet. ExxonMobils latest oil spill, in Mayflower, Arkansas, is of Canadian heavy crude oil. Three years ago this summer, an Enbridge Energy pipeline near Marshall, Michigan burst, sending 800,000 gallons of Canadian tar sand oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. Those waterways have yet to recover from the insult; it may be years before they do. Canadian oil spilling from pipelines in America, just as we debate whether to allow the construction of the massive Keystone pipeline from our northern border to the Texas Gulf coast. Whats up with that? Tar sands oil isnt just any oil. Its heavy and laden with coarse grit, the kind of thing that eats through metal, which makes pipelines carrying tar sands crude so prone to breaking. Once the heavy oil is out of the pipe, it tends to sink in either water or soil making cleanup next to impossible. In the east, Enbridge wants to reverse the flow of a decades-old pipeline that cuts across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Right now that pipeline carries oil from Portland, Maine to Montreal, Quebec. Enbridge says it wants to send tar sands oil across Northern New England in a pipeline built before the Second World War. Think globally, act locally? Its time to do both. As James Hansen, the worlds leading expert on climate change has said, building the Keystone pipeline would be like lighting the fuse on irreversible climate change. And if you live in a community targeted by a tar sands pipeline, now is the time to come to the aid of your country. Take action now and say "No to the Keystone pipeline!"
Mark Floegel

By Mark Floegel

Mark Floegel is the research director with Greenpeace USA. He has been working on public advocacy issues since 1987. Particular areas of issue expertise include: the effects of chlorinated chemicals on human health and the environment pertaining to pulp and paper mills; toxic waste incinerators; sustainable fisheries and forestry; renewable energy; acid rain, and sustainable agriculture.

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