Exxon continues clean-up of tar sands oil spill

US energy giant ExxonMobil says it is making “progress” in a clean-up operation of a large oil spill near Lake Conway in Arkansas which took place over the Easter weekend. […]

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By Vicky Ellis

US energy giant ExxonMobil says it is making “progress” in a clean-up operation of a large oil spill near Lake Conway in Arkansas which took place over the Easter weekend.

Thousands of barrels of tar sands oil – extracted from sand with an intensive heating process – appear to have leaked from the Pegasus pipeline near the town of Mayflower although the cause of the spill is still unclear.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has categorised the incident as a major spill while aerial footage taken earlier this week by a video journalist (pictured) appeared to show oil had spread through gardens, woodlands and some waterways. More than 20 homes in the immediate area remain evacuated.

Around 640 people are working on the incident on top of federal, state and local authorities, according to ExxonMobil. In its latest statement, the firm said: “Much of the free-standing oil has been recovered. Oil is being cleaned up through a combination of pressure washing, use of absorbent pads and removal of contaminated soil and vegetation”.

ExxonMobil says oil has not reached Lake Conway itself, a reservoir popular with holidaymakers for its fishing and game. Some local wildlife has been affected including ducks and turtles while eleven dead ducks and one dead nutria – a river rat – have been recovered.

Local aviation authorities have been criticised by campaigners for preventing pilots flying over the affected area unless granted permission from ExxonMobil. One anti-tar sands campaign group claims the spill shows the difference between crude oil and tar sands oil.

On its website the Tar Sands Blockade said local university students were reporting the substance coating the land and animals is thicker, “like sludge” and seems to cause blisters and irritate skin more than crude oil.