by Max Brantley
The latest report raises questions about the federal government's decision so far to leave it to two Arkansas state agencies to assess environmental damage and guide corrective action.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission are in charge of surveying the damage to oil-hit wildlife, wetlands, soil and groundwater along the mile-long spill site.
The two agencies told InsideClimate News they have little experience in handling a major oil spill like the one in Mayflower.
The state agencies are acting, but speed is important, the report says.
The state Game and Fish Commission plans to hire a private consultant in the next few weeks to quantity the damage to wildlife and Lake Conway and create a plan to restore the ecosystem. The work to restore the environment is expected to be paid for by Exxon, according to commission spokesman Keith Stephens. He said neither Exxon nor federal agencies would have a say in the decision on the consultant.
The Department of Environmental Quality will do its own damage assessment. Ryan Benefield, the agency's deputy director, said about 10 engineers, geologists and water scientists will soon begin "extensive sampling" of sediment, soil, groundwater and surface water in areas where much of the oil has been cleaned up.
Time is not on their side, however.
Collecting data on oil-damaged areas is critical in the first days after a spill because the oil is still visible, said Jeffrey Short, a scientist at Oceana, a conservation organization.
"You lose information at an exponential rate after an incident occurs" as oil settles and is absorbed in the surrounding ecosystem, said Short, who worked for 31 years as a NOAA research chemist. For much of that time he was involved in damage assessment for the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Not long after the oil spills, "there's a blackout period where things are happening in the environment and you can't see them," he said.
Lots more there, including a discussion of complications presented by the type of oil pushed through the pipeline and chemical elements that will remain in the ecosystem after oil is blotted up. The oil contains contains "at least 10 types of hazardous constituents, including benzene, a known human carcinogen, as well as polyaromatic hydrocarbons that can disrupt the hormone systems in animals and humans."