Ahead of a final decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, families directly impacted by the tar sands pipeline spill in Mayflower, Kansas in March traveled to Washington, DC this week to deliver an invitation and a message to Secretary of State John Kerry.
The invitation: Bring your staff and come see the destruction of our community for yourself.
Their message: Together with President Obama, reject the Keystone XL pipeline and save others from experiencing a similar, or an even larger, disaster.
"Before you issue your final evaluation of Keystone XL, we ask that you and your staff come to Mayflower to see what happens when a tar sands pipeline ruptures in your backyard," the families wrote in a letter that several Mayflower representatives hand-delivered in Washington, DC. "We ask that you observe the remnants of black tar, smell the toxic chemicals that are polluting our air, and ask yourselves whether you can in good conscience inflict this same devastation on families along Keystone XL’s route."
The Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower ruptured on March 29, and a "22 foot gash" spilled more than 5,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the local watershed and flooded people's backyards with heavy crude that was literally running in the streets. The cleanup effort in Mayflower continues with many residents complaining of ongoing air-quality problems and health concerns.
Genieve Long and Damien Byers, members of the Remember Mayflower Coalition, were two of the family members who made the trip to Washington to present the letter to Kerry and participate in a rally outside the State Department on Thursday.
As Mother Jones reports:
They are working with All Risk, No Reward, a coalition of local and national groups that oppose the proposed 1,600-mile pipeline that would carry oil from Canada to Texas.
"I'm just a concerned single daddy who happens to have 400 feet of this pipeline running through his property." - Damien Byers
Long and her four children—ages 9, 8, 7, and 5—live beside Lake Conway, not far from where Exxon's Pegasus pipeline spilled at least 210,000 gallons of crude oil from Canada's tar sands into a subdivision. Exxon has said that while there is oil in a cove on the lake, clean up crews haven't seen oil in the main body of water. But Sierra Club has said that an independent contractor the group hired found evidence of oil in the lake. Long thumbed through photos on her phone on Thursday morning, showing [...] images of oily sheen and what appeared to be black residue along the shores.
She says that Exxon has not been responsive to the complaints of people who live outside the area where the oil originally spilled. "I've asked them to just relocate us due to the smells," she said, noting that several of her children have asthma. "They told us the air quality was fine and they wouldn't relocate us." She's maintaining a Google Map that catalogs where people have reported seeing or smelling oil or experiencing negative health effects, as well as photos and video. She's also maintaining a Facebook page on the spill.
"I'm not an environmentalist, I'm not a treehugger," said Byers, who was joined by others at the rally outside the State Dept. "I'm just a concerned single daddy who happens to have 400 feet of this pipeline running through his property."
“My four children and I have grown up on this lake, but it’s no longer safe to be here or to breathe the air,” said Long. “Other families shouldn’t have to take on these risks or worry about their health and safety. This already happened to my family—I want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone along the Keystone XL route.”
“They have got to look our families in the eyes before they do this to us.” - Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska
Meanwhile, as the State Dept. makes its final review of the Keystone XL project, opponents--spearheaded by Oil Change International-- have raised money to purchase ads in DC Metro stations showing large images of the devastation in Mayflower caused by the spill.
The ramped up pressure on Obama and Kerry reveals the heightened angst among the environmental groups who have fought so hard to oppose the pipeline. Though the Obama administration has been careful not to reveal which way it might be leaning on a final decision, the groups--acknowledging the tremendous power of the oil and pipeline industries--are worried an approval is likely.
Still, it has been a growing pleasure to pipeline opponents to see the rise of state-level and community groups, not typically associated with the environmental or climate justice movements, joining the battle against Keystone XL and the wider fight against the fossil fuel indsutry that so often ignores the concerns of ordinary people.
A group called Bold Nebraska has been leading the charge against Keystone in their state and championed Thursday's move by the families from Arkansas.
"Bold Nebraska has invited President Obama to Nebraska and now Secretary Kerry has an open invitation to visit Arkansas,” said Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska and member of the All Risk, No Reward Coalition. “They have got to look our families in the eyes before they do this to us.”
The All Risk, No Reward Coalition recently posted this ad against Keystone XL:
And the full letter (dated May 9, 2013) from the Mayflower families follows:
Secretary John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20037
Dear Secretary Kerry,
We are writing on behalf of all affected families in Mayflower, Arkansas—the 22 families who were evacuated from their homes, the dozens of people living in surrounding areas who have been exposed to toxic chemicals, and the hundreds of thousands of Arkansans who get their water from the Lake Maumelle watershed—to ask that you remember Mayflower as you continue to evaluate the permit for Keystone XL.
After witnessing the devastation in our community following the Good Friday tar sands spill, we cannot in good conscience sit by and watch as other communities suffer the same fate. ExxonMobil has demonstrated that tar sands pipelines spill. Their Pegasus tar sands pipeline spilled first in Arkansas—and then one month later across the border in Missouri. And when these tar sands spill, they threaten our water, our health, and our homes.
We are working with elected officials to move Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline away from the Lake Maumelle watershed, which provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Arkansans. We have overwhelming support from community leaders and politicians, and will do everything we can to protect our water.
But the people of Nebraska aren’t as lucky. The Ogallala Aquifer provides irrigation and drinking water for millions of Americans in Nebraska and across the country, and their water is at risk if Keystone XL is constructed. But they don’t have the same advocates we have. You and President Obama are their only hope to protect their water, land, and health.
There is still so much we don’t know about tar sands—about the economic risks of them spilling in communities, about how they impact important water sources, and about how they effect our health. We don’t know enough to say “yes” to a massive tar sands pipeline through the country’s heartland.
Before you issue your final evaluation of Keystone XL, we ask that you and your staff come to Mayflower to see what happens when a tar sands pipeline ruptures in your backyard. We ask that you observe the remnants of black tar, smell the toxic chemicals that are polluting our air, and ask yourselves whether you can in good conscience inflict this same devastation on families along Keystone XL’s route.
We will open our doors to you and your staff—and promise home-cooked Southern meals to accompany our accounts of the spill.
Danielle and Kevin Brown
Amanda and Joseph Dorset