project leader
lindseymillar
location
N. Starlite Road
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the project

 

InsideClimate News, winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, is teaming up with the Arkansas Times, an aggressive daily news site with a weekly print edition based in Little Rock,  to get to the bottom of the ExxonMobil oil spill in Mayflower, Ark. Why? Because it’s a disaster in danger of being forgotten or ignored, even though it has irrevocably changed the lives of many people like you and me — and because this spill, like previous spills, should be part of the national debate about the future of energy and the impacts of carbon pollution.

The Mayflower spill occurred on March 29. As many as 400,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilled into a residential neighborhood, forcing the evacuation of 22 homes that remain empty today. Residents continue to complain of a variety of health effects. A pile of oil-soaked debris hasn’t been removed from the area, and oil saturating a cove still threatens Lake Conway, a popular fishing lake. Yet little information about the cause of the spill — or when the shuttered pipeline might be re-started — has been forthcoming from Exxon or federal authorities.

The Mayflower story has national implications. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry the same type of unconventional oil from Canada to Texas. But in this age of shrinking newsrooms, few media outlets have been covering this important story from a small town in Arkansas. The collaboration between Arkansas Times and InsideClimate News will allow this story to be told from both a local and national perspective, and fill a glaring gap in media coverage.

the steps

NOTE TO INTERNATIONAL DONORS: Please donate by clicking here and write "Muckraking" in the donation description line.

An investigation of this scale requires reporting on many levels: covering the emerging lawsuits, pressing ExxonMobil for answers, evaluating state and federal regulatory and cleanup efforts, explaining the environmental science — and, not least, talking with people in the neighborhoods affected by the mess. These efforts must be done all at once, as events warrant. We will publish shorter print stories and online features as news develops. Periodically we’ll roll out longer stories to give print and digital readers a deeper understanding of what’s happening. We’ll know we’re successful when we break news, make sense of a complex story, and get the answers the American public deserves.

why we're doing it

Two months after the spill, Mayflower Unified Command, a cooperative effort of local, state and federal authorities and ExxonMobil, said all visible freestanding oil had been removed from the area and cleanup efforts had transitioned from “emergency” to “remediation.” But many questions remain.

ExxonMobil has yet to explain what caused the 22-foot-long gash in the pipeline. Estimates of number of barrels of oil spilled vary dramatically, from ExxonMobil’s latest estimate of 147,000 gallons to one lawsuit’s contention of 420,000 gallons.

ExxonMobil continues to insist that no oil escaped from the cove into the main body of Lake Conway, even though internal documents acquired by Greenpeace through a Freedom of Information request show that ExxonMobil’s own water tests indicated rising levels of benzene and other contaminants throughout the lake.

The task of supervising the cleanup of  the lake and nearby neighborhood has fallen to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, two state agencies with little to no experience monitoring oil spills.

This was no ordinary oil spill. What flowed from the ruptured pipe was a heavy crude from Canada’s tar sands called bitumen. It is thick like peanut butter and must be diluted with liquid chemicals so it can flow through pipelines. When diluted bitumen comes into contact with water, its diluents gradually evaporate and the bitumen sinks to the bottom. We learned this in Michigan when more than a million gallons of diluted bitumen spilled into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. Three years later, oil is still being removed from the river bottom of the Kalamazoo. In Arkansas as of early June 18, the Department of Environmental Quality had yet to perform any tests on the bed of Lake Conway.

The spilled oil includes toxic chemicals such as benzene, hydrogen sulfide and toluene, and dozens of area residents have complained of headaches, stomach aches, nasal bleeding and hives. 

Investigating these claims and questions obviously matters deeply to the people of Mayflower.  But the reporting generated by this partnership could also have national impact. It could influence whether the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration allows ExxonMobil to restart the pipeline and could shape the debate over pipeline safety and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would cut through the Ogallala aquifer.

Two reporters will lead the reporting from the ground. Elizabeth McGowan was part of the InsideClimate News team that won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for its examination of  the 2010 Michigan spill. Sam Eifling is an Arkansas native who has written for Slate, Columbia Journalism Review and other prestigious publications. Eifling and McGowan will work with photographers, videographers and graphic designers as well as staffers who are experts in Arkansas politics, pipeline regulations and the science of chemical spills.

Conversation

I live in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and would like to help. I have transportation, good quality camera equipment, excellent writing, editing, and interviewing skills, and sincere dedication to spreading this information to the general public. Several acquaintances of mine can't even remember why they know the name Mayflower, LESS THAN THREE MONTHS after the diluted bitumen spill. Please let me know what I can do.

budget

July - Sept

Staff Costs: $20,000 (Reporters, editors, photo, video, graphics)

Travel & Local Accomodation: $5000

Admin & Overhead: $1535

updates

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photos

This is where photos will go once we build flickr integration

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