Exxon’s Pegasus Oil Spill — and the Myth of U.S. “Energy Independence”
Why has the American media been nearly silent on a major oil spill in Arkansas?
- If you depend on major U.S. newspapers for your news, you could be forgiven for asking "Pegasus oil leak? What leak?"
- The response by the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal? Muted, to put it charitably.
- The March 2013 oil spill is directly due to a major oil company pushing its aging infrastructure very hard.
- What is hailed as a new era of U.S. "energy independence" is more an effort to cash in than real security.
A strange thing happened over Easter. On March 29, 2013, an oil pipeline operated by ExxonMobil ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of heavy oil across neighboring properties and into Lake Conway, a nearby fishing and recreational spot.
Then, in early May, the same pipeline suffered a second, unrelated rupture 200 miles away, in Ripley County, Missouri.
The second rupture resulted in yet more oil spillage — despite the pipeline having been shut down as a result of the earlier Lake Conway spill.
But then an even stranger thing happened. The reporters of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, who should have been all over this story, went quiet.
They did not expose the contradictions in the company’s stories. They did not take up the cause of the residents struggling for compensation.
Nor did they inform the public of a crucial aspect of the story — why the aging oil infrastructure had been pressed into service in order to carry heavy bituminous oil from Canada down to the Gulf for refining.
That pipeline was — literally — bursting at the seams and creating its own version of an oil gusher.
The results are clear for all to see:
- An enormous oil spillage on mainland American soil, which can be directly attributed to an oil company.
- A short-sighted effort to cash in on what is being hailed by apologists as a new era of American “energy independence” — and
- The nation’s major newspapers on record all go curiously silent.
[See the accompanying Box “When no news is bad news” on how the mainstream media reported the story.]
This is the reality behind the hype over the new era of American “energy independence.” That term is actually a buzzword designed to distract attention from the real facts on the ground.
It promotes what Michael Klare calls “extreme” forms of energy — coal seam gas, tar sands oil, deep offshore drilling, Arctic drilling and so on.
To move as quickly as possible, these companies are utilizing aging and brittle infrastructure — like the Pegasus oil pipeline, which was brought into service half a century ago in order to carry refined light oil from the Gulf to Illinois.
All of which leaves one big question: Why are the nation’s big papers — those who cannot claim to be understaffed — going light on the story, when something goes significant wrong, as happened with the Pegasus pipeline?
And why would they want to do that? Well, you see, this just happens at a time when all of Washington is abuzz about an imminent decision by President Obama as to whether the Keystone XL pipeline is to go ahead.
From the perspective of Exxon and other oil industry companies, the Pegasus leak couldn’t have come at a worse time.
How did the papers deal with this? The New York Times was moved in one news story to write that the Pegasus leak might lead some to ask questions about whether Keystone should be given the go-ahead.
Not exactly the journalistic punch one would have expected — and that the story offered up.
And the Wall Street Journal? It ran the specious argument that commentators who query the sagacity of building a new pipeline from Alberta tar sands to the United States are hypocritical.
Why would that be? Because if the effort to block the pipeline succeeds, they will be forcing the oil to move on alternative transport links such as rail, which will likely trigger more railroad spills as a result.
What is left unsaid? There is a silent assumption that the oil will get from the tar sands of Canada to the United States one way or another.
The mere possibility that blocking the Keystone pipeline might block the movement of tar sands oil to the U.S. — and become a powerful force for shattering the myth of “energy independence” — is not even considered. It’s deemed unthinkable.
Because this is the crux of the argument. While apologists exclaim that the United States is on the cusp of “energy independence,” the same vested interests continue to block the transition to renewable energies — which are the real, and only, source of energy independence.
The United States has already had one energy tragedy, when the fossil fuels lobby blocked the shift to renewables in the 1970s through the plunging price of oil in the 1980s.
Now, there is a real danger of a second tragedy, as another push to renewables is derailed by the illusory cry for a fossil-fueled path to “energy independence.” As a result, the transition to solar photovoltaic power, concentrating solar power and wind power, is blocked or retarded.
But this second time around, smart countries such as Germany, China and others are building their renewable energy industries as fast as they can — as fast as is physically possible.
They understand very well that renewables are the only source of energy independence.
They also understand full well that these industries provide the export platforms of tomorrow.
It seems that the United States, is letting China, et al. lead on this issue.
And if the United States vacates these renewables markets, and really a crucial dimension of its global leadership claim, then China and the others will move in — and their lead will become unassailable.
Then the United States will have to scramble to maintain its energy independence when the new, “extreme” fossil fuels peak and then decline (as is already happening). There are likely to be many more Pegasus-type ruptures and oil spills along the way.
If the Pegasus incident serves to derail the Keystone XL pipeline project — in spite of the radio silence we have all witnessed — then this would be good for the renewable energy industries (the source of real, non-fossil based energy independence), good for the United States of America — and good for the world.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated at the author’s request.