Small Arkansas town of Mayflower dealing with aftermath from oil spill

Living on Earth

Oil has contaminated a creek and other land in Mayflower, Ark., after a pipeline ruptured.

A pipeline that links Canada's tar sands with the Gulf coast ruptured in the rural community of Mayflower, Ark., late last month.

Mobil built the Pegasus Pipeline 65 years ago to bring crude north from Port Arthur on the Gulf Coast to a refinery in Illinois. Seven years ago, ExxonMobil won approval from the government to reverse that flow and carry Canadian tar sands crude south via pipelines owned by Enbridge and the Koch brothers.

Thousands of gallons of that sticky crude spilled out into the little town about 20 miles north of Little Rock. Becky Naylor has lived in the small town all her life. Naylor lives on land where the pipeline travels through town. The spill is just a little more than a football field away from their land.

"It looks like black mud. It’s horrible. The smell is horrendous. Now the smell has gone down a lot since they’ve cleaned and gotten it out of there," she said. "But on the days it’s not raining and it gets a little warm, it would almost take your breath away."

When the pipeline sprung a leak on March 29, Naylor remembers hearing an unusually large amount of sirens.

"We went back and looked at our property and there was nothing back there but the smell," she recalled.

Some 12,000 barrels of oil and water were recovered within about two days of the spill; 22 homes were evacuated during the clean-up. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is supervising the clean-up.

Naylor credits local officials for helping ExxonMobil crews triage the situation, preventing oil from contaminating nearby Lake Conway.

"It’s a wonderful lake to fish on. There’s bass, there’s crappie, catfish — a lot of bass fishermen go over there," she said.

A number of turtles and ducks were found, covered in oil, as was a muckrat. Most of the animals were found quickly enough to be cleaned up and released, Naylor said.

"We’ve been through tornadoes, we’ve been through fires, we’ve been through a lot of things, but nothing like this right here," she said. "But this is something we’re not familiar with to know what to do."