The crack of a 20-inch interstate pipeline rupturing in Mayflower, Ark., announced more than a flood of heavy Canadian crude oil on a trim subdivision near Lake Conway.
The spill of 10,000 barrels of oil did more than send a ripple through oil prices (down Monday, with the pipeline break cited as a factor.) It also sent a ripple through state and local politics.
Those hurrying to the oil-fouled scene Friday evening included U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin and state Sen. Jason Rapert of Conway, both representatives of the affected area.
Griffin managed to avoid being photographed. Rapert did not. For his solicitude, his picture got circulated around the world on Facebook amid the muck, along with continued questions about a bill he and Rep. Nate Bell have sponsored on eminent domain.
The Rapert-Bell bill nominally protects private landowners from appropriation of property by private interests. But ... it continues favored status for pipeline companies and, in its original form, posed the potential for even broadening the rights of energy exploration companies in the Fayetteville shale. By Sunday night, Rapert was referring questions on the bill to Bell, saying he, not Rapert, was the lead sponsor. Bell said critics simply didn't understand the law. He referred questions to the Institute for Justice, apparently the source of the legislation. Dumb move. The Institute for Justice was financed by the billionaire Koch brothers, major players in the energy business and treasurers for many conservative corporate political lobbies, including the Americans for Prosperity, which has employed Nate Bell's wife.
The state legislation is small potatoes against a much larger national issue. Last year, Griffin told the New York Times, "I want to wake up talking about Keystone pipeline and I want to go to bed at night talking about Keystone pipeline."
He's been as good as his word. He has legislation pending to force completion of the pipeline through the Great Plains without the usual environmental review. Greg Palast, the British journalist who revealed Griffin's connection to Florida vote suppression efforts in George W. Bush's presidential campaign, argues that Griffin is carrying the Keystone fight for the energy lobby, including the Koch brothers, that has contributed hundreds of thousands to his campaigns. The Kochs have a refinery in Texas. They want the pipeline to deliver Canadian tar sands crude that'll be transformed into products for shipment.
Keystone would carry the same nasty Canadian stuff that the ruptured Exxon Mobil Pegasus pipeline carried. It is more corrosive, mixed with unknown chemicals and harder to clean up.
Of course oil companies endeavor to build safe pipelines. Federal regulations require computer-guided mechanical inspections, too, though Palast has argued that the software can be gamed to reduce the incidence of discovery of weaknesses that require expensive pipe replacement.
Oil and gas drilling and pipelines aren't going away. But Friday's disaster illustrates that Griffin and shale play cheerleader Rapert write off environmental peril too readily. The Keystone pipeline has been fought in Nebraska by people concerned that it passes over a critical underground water supply. Still Griffin wants to fast track it. As suction trucks vacuum oil, booms are put in place on Lake Conway and volunteers work to scrub oil-soaked waterfowl, you have to wonder if he'll continue to be in such a noisy hurry.
Closer to Little Rock, a Pulaski County justice of the peace asked for a report from Central Arkansas Water after I blogged that the pipeline crosses 13 miles of the Lake Maumelle watershed. The water utility has expressed concerns about spill response plans to Exxon previously and might soon move to ask Exxon to relocate the line.
Coincidentally, the same Koch money pushing the Keystone pipeline and paying Tim Griffin is fighting anti-pollution regulation of the Maumelle watershed. What could go wrong?