MAYFLOWER - Exxon Mobil Pipeline Corp. has already spent millions of dollars on supplies and services from local businesses and contractors after a major oil spill more than a week ago in this town 10 miles south of Conway, a spokesman said Saturday.
“We are buying as much supplies and hiring as many contractors as possible from Arkansas,” Exxon Mobilspokesman Patrick McGinn said. “We have purchased from 70 Arkansas contractors, and about half of those are local - local meaning here in Mayflower or Faulkner County.”
He didn’t divulge an exact dollar amount, however. And McGinn and other Exxon Mobil officials declined to say how much the company has spent so far in efforts to clean up the spill, estimated to have spewed about 5,000barrels - or 210,000 gallons - of heavy crude oil into the Northwoods neighborhood, surrounding ditches and a cove across Arkansas 89 from Lake Conway.
While the spill has displaced residents from 22 homes, some local businessmen are calling the disaster a “blessing in disguise.”
That’s the viewpoint of Andy Morris, an employee at Lumber 1 Home Center in Mayflower. Workers hired by Exxon Mobil frequent the business daily, he said, purchasing cleanup supplies.
“It’s definitely helping us out. Realistically, they could go anywhere else … instead, they decided to use their resources right here,” he said, adding that “a very significant amount” has been spent at the store by Exxon Mobil.
The economic impact hasn’t escaped Jim Lancaster, either. He owns Lancaster Heat and Air in Mayflower, which has been hired by Exxon Mobil.
“When you broke your back in attics - in 175-degree attics - [and] crawled under homes for 30 years of your life, and someone like that is willing to give someone as small as my company a chance, I thank the good Lord above that he sent them to kind of help out the little guy,” Lancaster said.
Cleanup continued Saturday, with crews working around the clock to dig up oil-soaked dirt, vacuum oily water and keep up efforts to prevent the contaminated water from escaping the cove across the highway from Lake Conway and reaching the main body of the waterway.
Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson described the work site in and around the subdivision, where much of the oil seeped into residents’ yards and into nearby drainage ditches, as “a beehive” with as many as 100 tasks going on at the same time.
Federal, state, county and Exxon Mobil officials touted those cleanup and response efforts while dodging questions about timelines and costs at a news conference Saturday afternoon.
“It’s difficult to predict when residents can get back into their homes,” said Mark Wiesner of Exxon Mobil Pipeline Corp.
Officials will know more today about how close they are to allowing some evacuated residents to return to the Northwoods subdivision, where the pipeline containing heavy crude ruptured March 29, Dodson said Saturday. On Friday, he said officials were hoping to allow some people back by today.
By Saturday, 147 claims from individuals and businesses had been submittedto Exxon Mobil, Wiesner said. Company spokesmen have said the claims include reimbursement for hotel stays and meals.
Questions about the dollar amount of Exxon Mobil claims, specifics about the upkeep of the pipeline, the oil’s long-term effects on marshlands and other questions went unanswered by officials at the news conference Saturday.
“I am here to really focus on recovery and relief efforts,” Wiesner said.
Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil is waiting for a response from the U.S. Department of Transportation on its proposal for digging up the faulty portion of the pipe to examine it and investigate the cause of the spill. Until an excavation plan is approved and in place, officials won’t comment further on their plans for replacing and testing that part of thepipeline, they said.
The spill has drawn national attention to pipeline safety and highlighted contention about the TransCanada energy company’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry more than 800,000 barrels of oil daily from Canada through Nebraska, then link up with other pipelines to Midwestern and Gulf Coast refineries.
Morris, the employee at Lumber 1, said he believes people should realize Exxon Mobil is here to help.
“Obviously, the community has mixed emotions about the situation,” Morris said. “Some of the community has really kind of showed some true colors, to put it nicely … people have been protesting, and reporters are constantly trying to get where Exxon is working.
“I really just hope the people here in central Arkansas see these people are here to help with a disaster, not cause a disaster. And they are here to get it helped and solved really, really quick.”