With increasing national news media and regulatory attention and despite ExxonMobil’s assurances that everything is under control at a plugged oil spill near Little Rock, AR, hardened opposition and skeptical stakeholders in the high-stakes business of finding markets for Western Canada’s heavy tar sands-based crude oil are raising red flags, as evidenced in California this week.

Although cleanup is well under way for the Mayflower, AR, incident, a coalition of environmental groups in California stepped up Wednesday to warn that large-scale shipments of heavy Canadian crude are passing through the West regularly en route to Southern California refineries.

The groups are calling for an investigation by air quality officials to evaluate the effects on health, air quality, safety and climate in the ongoing processing of Canadian crude in California. They contend that the refining process in the United States is more intensive to remove the greater amounts of sulfur associated with the tar sands supplies.

In a report from Arkansas Wednesday, ExxonMobil noted that a second federal agency, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), has weighed in, citing the company with a corrective action order, and there are now nearly 600 people responding to the incident, representing federal, state and local organizations, in addition to the company.

The cause of the spill is still under investigation, but Exxon has reiterated that the spill did not involve tar sands oil (see Daily GPI, April 3).

The company said nearby Lake Conway remains oil free and Mayflower’s local water supply has not been impacted. The number of residents filing claims has climbed to 140 as continuous air quality monitoring continues by ExxonMobil, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Arkansas’s Department of Health.

Half a continent away, representatives from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Communities for a Better Environment urged closer scrutiny of potential air quality fallout from the processing of the Canadian crude in California.

They called attention to the Los Angeles Harbor community of Wilmington, where three refineries reside: Valero Energy Corp., Phillips 66 Co., and Tesoro Corp. Valero CEO Joe Gorder told shareholders recently that his company plans to import an added 30,000 b/d of Canadian crude to its Wilmington refinery, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

Adding to the growing opposition to the petroleum activity in an area in which the industry has operated for decades is a new proposal to develop a railroad terminal near the refineries to ship supplies elsewhere in the state.

An engineer with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), which regulates refineries, told the Times that while SCAQMD cannot force refineries to divulge the source of their supplies, the district has the “most stringent rules” in the nation for refinery operations. The same strict rules apply regardless of where the crude comes from, the official said.

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