A week after the Democratic-controlled Senate approved by a robust 62-37 margin an amendment to support construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, an Exxon Mobil pipeline carrying Canadian crude burst on March 29 near Mayflower, Ark., a speck on the map situated north of Little Rock.
The rupture is bad news for TransCanada, backer of Keystone, and a shot-in-the-arm for environmentalists who are dead-set against the proposed Canada-to-Texas pipeline.
So far, Exxon has recovered more than 12,000 barrels of the tar sands crude mess, and deployed containment crews to prevent spillage into Lake Conway. More than 20 homes were evacuated after the think black gunk swept down streets and across lawns.
On March 26, Ken Cohen, Exxon’s VP-public & government affairs, hailed the Senate vote as a symbolic, but significant endorsement of Keystone.
He wrote on Exxon's "Perspectives" blog: "It's worth noting that on a similar vote last year, Keystone XL attracted 56 votes. The pickup of six additional votes this year -- all from Democratic senators -- seems to reflect a growing national consensus about the project, and comes less than three weeks after a poll showing that Americans favor building the pipeline by a 70-23 percent margin."
That political momentum flowing from the Senate action has been derailed by Exxon’s accident. [Speaking of derailments, a Canadian Pacific train carrying more heavy oil from The Great White North on March 27 flew off its tracks in Minnesota, spilling more than 400 barrels.]
TransCanada and Canadian government officials are doing their best to make PR lemonade from the lemon in The Natural State. People shouldn't "rush to condemn" pipelines, said a TransCanada spokesperson in the aftermath of Arkansas. The company said quantum leaps in safety have been made since the Exxon line was built 65 years ago. Geez, great leaps have been made in auto safety during the past 65 years, but wrecks still happen.
Even better is a quote from Cal Dallas, international relations minister for Alberta. According to the March 31 Globe and Mail, Dallas said: "Perhaps in a strange kind of a way this makes a strong case for having new pipe infrastructure for moving this product around."
In Dallas' view, a bigger spill would create a groundswell of support for Keystone.
That’s not a winning argument for the Keystone project, which faces a “no or go” decision from President Obama in June.
The State Dept. will hold a forum for public comments about Keystone in Nebraska on April 18.
Exxon's Pegasus pipeline rupture is expected to be among the stars of that show.