It’s raining in Arkansas tonight and there is rain in the forecast through Tuesday of next week. That is what it does in Arkansas in the spring–it rains. Day after day rain falls, flooding roads, bridges, city streets– spring rain often brings tornadoes and huge crashes of thunder, eruptions of lightning. It is beautiful and it is fierce and it is completely out of human control. In the spring, Arkansas rain can fall for days, and in the flood planes where many central Arkansas cities are built, water fills up roads, parks, and yards like a glass overflowing. There are weeks, maybe even months, where lawns and sidewalks disappear completely beneath days of standing rain water.
It’s raining in Arkansas tonight and the oil is sure to get washed around. By now we know the outline of the facts, we’ve seen the pictures. The Pegasus pipeline spilled and Canadian tar sands oil is seeping into Arkansan soil. Exxon and other industry leaders say it will get cleaned up, politicians say the response has been fast and seamless. But it’s raining in Arkansas tonight. We can predict and discuss and plan for spills like the one that occurred Friday in Arkansas but we cannot plan for the rain. And as a result we effectively have no plan.
I am a teacher. I teach students about the earth. Two weeks ago I sat in front of 15 6th grade students and taught geology and engineering. As we discussed how to build structures that bend and move with the movement of the earth, how to predict places where the very soil is likely crumble beneath you, where to be wary of shifting faults and moving plates I was struck by how dynamic our earth is. We live on a dynamic earth. It stirs, changes, and flows with time. The earth is alive. Our challenge is to find ways to live with our dynamic earth, to create structures and systems that account for the movement of the earth, that don’t fall apart with the falling of the rain.
The safety of pipelines does not merely depend on the structure of the pipes themselves or even the materials that flow through them, it also depends on the movement of the earth. Our ability to clean up spills when these pipelines leak does not merely depend on technology, quick response, or human ingenuity, it also depends on the rain, the sun, the consistency of the soil.
I have lived in Arkansas and I know about the rain there. During the four years that I lived there an entire town was leveled by tornadoes, I walked through knee-deep water across my college campus, and I watched dirt and debris gush up out of the storm drains. No one can control the rain.
It’s raining in Arkansas tonight and there’s an oil spill to be cleaned up. Our earth is dynamic and we need to find better ways to live with her or the waters just might sweep us away.
For media coverage on the Pegasus spill check out “Arkansas spill strengthens arguments of Keystone foes” and “Ducks Near Arkansas Oil Spill Found Dead After ExxonMobil Pipeline Rupture”