Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Isolde Raftery

An ExxonMobil pipeline rupture near Little Rock, Ark., Friday evening has resulted in a “major oil spill,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency -- and ignited further debate over the transportation of crude oil in the U.S.

Up to 10,000 barrels could have been spilled, according to a report filed to the National Response Center by ExxonMobil early Saturday morning.

ExxonMobil said Sunday that 12,000 barrels of a mix of oil and water had been recovered, though there was no breakdown on how much of that was oil.

Twenty-two residents were evacuated from their homes, according to a statement on the ExxonMobil website.

Mayflower, Ark., Chief of Police Bob Satkowski told Channel 7 News in Little Rock that those residents had to leave their homes because of health risks from the crude oil fumes and possible fires.

In a statement on the company website, ExxonMobil downplayed the environmental concerns, saying that the air quality doesn’t likely present a human health risk, “with the exception of high-pooling areas.”

KARK, an NBC affiliate station in Little Rock, reported that part of the pipeline runs through a water source that provides drinking water to nearly 400,000 residents in central Arkansas. The 20-inch wide pipeline goes through Lake Maumelle.

The pipeline, officially known as the Pegasus pipeline, transports heavy Canadian crude oil from Patoka, Ill. down to the Sunoco Logistics Nederland terminal in Texas, which feeds into Houston area refiners, according to the Exxon website. The pipeline, which can carry more than 90,000 barrels a day, was stopped Friday. ExxonMobil did not say when it would reopen.

EPA officials said the cleanup would be long and expensive, according to KARK. It was not reported who would pay for the cleanup.

The leak was first reported at 5 p.m. Friday, when someone called the National Response Center to report a drop in pipeline pressure.

Two hours later, a caller reported that there was a “significant amount of material release.” The caller said the oil leak lasted about three hours.

An updated report early Saturday said up to 10,000 barrels were discharged and that the product had been released “into flume pipes and into a pond, a tributary of Lake Conway.”

Friday’s spill prompted immediate response from critics of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport about 800,000 barrels per day of Canadian crude oil to the Gulf Coast for refining.

Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey took to Facebook to lash out against Canadian crude oil.

“This latest pipeline incident is a troubling reminder that oil companies still have not proven that they can safely transport Canadian tar sands oil across the United States without creating risks to our citizens and our environment,” Markey said. He is the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee.

“Tar sands oil is already the dirtiest, riskiest oil around, and should not be getting a free ride across America,” he continued. “It’s time that we recognize the real effects producing and burning this oil will have on our climate, and the real world damage it can cause when it is spilled in our neighborhoods.”

This has been a bad week for crude oil public relations. On Wednesday, according to Reuters, a train carrying crude oil derailed in Minnesota and spilled up to 30,000 gallons.

Last week, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration recommended fining ExxonMobil Pipeline Company $1.7 million for how the company responded to a crude oil pipeline failure in the Yellowstone River in Montana.

Friday's spill in Mayflower, Ark. spill may be 10 times more significant than the Montana spill, which leaked 1,509 barrels.

To put this numbers in perspective: The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill poured 260,000 to 750,000 gallons into Alaskan waters.

The 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill, the most significant oil spill in the U.S., leaked 4.9 million barrels into the Gulf Coast.

Reuters contributed reporting.