An Exxon crude oil pipeline that ruptured Friday in central Arkansas has upended an entire community, leaving dozens unable to return to their homes and many more with unanswered questions.
The ruptured pipe sent oil flowing down residential streets, moving quickly into the community's storm drain system, onwards into a drainage ditch and towards the nearby Lake Conway before officials were able to contain the spill.
Arkansas news station KATV reported that well over 10,000 barrels of oil gushed from the pipe, covering streets and backyards of the neighborhood the pipe ran through.
Twenty-two homes had to be evacuated due to the spill.
Residents of the Mayflower, Ark. community questioned local and Exxon officials about the spill at a town hall meeting, where local and Exxon officials reportedly struggled to give satisfactory answers, especially regarding when residents would be able to return home.
"We're getting contradictory answer when we were initially evacuated we were told pack for two days it'll be cleaned up," said Darren Hale, a homeowner who was forced to evacuate, according to KATV. "Then we were told this morning to pack for at least a week."
As of Sunday evening, Exxon officials did not have firm answers on when residents would be able to return home or why the spill occurred. The homes immediately around the ruptured pipeline must be evacuated before officials can determine the cause of the spill, according to Exxon spokesperson Alan Jeffers.
"I can't speculate on when it will happen," Jeffers said to Reuters. "Excavation is necessary as part of an investigation to determine the cause of the incident."
The smell of the spilled oil was reportedly quite strong, but as cleanup crews removed the spilt oil from streets the power of the crude oil smell was less potent.
"The freestanding oil on the street has been removed. It's still damp with oil, it's tacky, like it is before we do an asphalt overlay," said Allen Dodson, Faulkner County judge who is the top executive for the county where the spill occurred, in an interview with Reuters.
According to an Exxon statement 15 vacuum trucks and 33 storage tanks have been deployed to the site to remove and store the spilled oil. Approximately 12,000 barrels of oil and water have been recovered, the statement said, though the percentage of water to oil recovered was unclear.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers the accident a "major spill."
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