The VICE Channels

    Exxon Just Flooded an Arkansas Suburb with a River of Oil

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Image: The Arkansas Exxon oil spill. Occupy Marines, Public Facebook

    Over the weekend, an Exxon Mobil oil pipeline ruptured in Arkansas. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude are believed to have spilled out into the unfortunate town of Mayflower, forcing 22 families to evacuate. It looked like this, a river of sludge through southern suburban streets:

    Exxon claims that 4,500 barrels have already been cleaned up, and that they believe 12,000 barrels may have spilled out in full. The EPA has already declared the event a "major spill." Aside from the apparently awesome stench and an entire community being exposed to toxic sludge, authorities are concerned that the oil may make its way to a popular fishing destination nearby.

    The National Wildlife Federation reports that those storm drains we see in the video above "head towards Lake Conway, a huge manmade reservoir stocked with bass, catfish, bream and crappie. Local authorities built several earthen dams to try to keep the tar sands oil out of Lake Conway, but if the water is fouled, it won’t just threaten the fish, it will threaten the area’s recreation economy."

    For its part, oil giant says it is still investigating the cause of the accident. It has also issued the kind of vague and noncommittal apology oil companies are wont to issue, saying that "We regret that this incident has occurred and apologize for any disruption and inconvenience that it has caused." 

    The spill comes at a particularly inconvenient time for the oil industry, which has thrown its weight behind a proposal to build another major pipeline, the Keystone XL. And that pipeline would do the exact same thing, on a larger scale—pump crude oil from Canada's tar sands on down to Texas. The Keystone XL, a 1,700 mile pipeline proposed for construction by the Canadian oil firm TransCanada, would be bigger, longer, and boast a greater capacity—it would move 800,000 barrels a day. Its opponents claim accidents like this would be all but guaranteed, given TransCanada's shoddy safety record. 

    But this is life with oil. So as long as it fuels our transportation sector and feeds our plastics, it's going to keep spilling out in communities like this, into ocean gulfs like this, and into pristine ecosystems like this. That's just how it's going to be. So the real reason to shut down the Keystone would be to signal we're ready to pivot from such antiquated power sources and towards the cleaner, safer ones that very well could fuel the societies of tomorrow. Until then, expect more oil-soaked streets.