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Rivers of Oil in Arkansas and the Republican Congressman Who Wants More

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A lake of heavy crude in a Mayflower, Arkansas back yard.

You might not have heard about Republican congressman Tim Griffin, an otherwise nondescript conservative lawmaker from Arkansas, but bear with me on this.

Before being elected to Congress in 2010, Griffin, whose physical appearance and speaking voice remind me of a stumpier, mini-me clone of George W. Bush, served as as the Research Director and Deputy Communications Director for RNC during the Bush re-election campaign. Following the 2004 election, Griffin was accused of nefarious "caging" efforts to disenfranchise African American voters in Florida. The charges were eventually dismissed and Griffin went on to become Karl Rove's second in command inside the Bush White House and was eventually involved in the Alberto Gonzales "attorney firing" scandal as one of the Bushie loyalists who was hand-picked by the administration to replace U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Suffice to say, this guy's dirty.

Like most of the accused crooks inside the Bush administration, Griffin moved onward and upward.

In 2010, he was overwhelming elected to represent Arkansas' second district in Congress. The district includes the state capital of Little Rock and several of the surrounding counties including Faulkner County. Two years later, in last year's general election, Griffin was re-elected by a margin of 16 points throughout the district and by an overwhelming 35 points in Faulkner County.

Why am I highlighting the results in Faulkner County, one of eight counties in Griffin's home district? Faulkner is where the suburb of Mayflower is located -- a neighborhood in Arkansas featuring the state's only black, gunky river of heavy crude running through its streets and pooling in small lakes between its cookie-cutter McMansions. Thanks to the conscientious and responsible folks at Exxon-Mobil and their most-excellent underground pipeline called "Pegasus," which delivers oil 900 miles from Illinois to Texas, the town's property values will probably be crushed, and the damage to the environment and drinking water is a matter of speculation at this early stage, but whenever tens of thousands of barrels are ejected into the ground, the long-term impact is almost always bad.

To be more specific about this spill, the oil that's engulfed Mayflower is actually what's called "diluted bitumen" and it comes from the Canadian tar sands. It's unknown for now whether Exxon's decision to increase the flow of "dilbit" through the 60-year-old pipeline from 65,000 barrels per day to 95,000 barrels per day had anything to do with the rupture, but it couldn't possibly have helped. As of Tuesday, 12,000 barrels of oil and water (504,000 gallons) were recovered -- approximately the equivalent of two days worth of Deepwater Horizon oil spillage, which was ejected into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 5,000 barrels per day. It's not nearly as massive as the BP disaster, of course, but it certainly calls attention to what could happen on an increasingly routine basis if the Keystone XL pipeline is eventually constructed.

This brings us back to Tim Griffin.

Ironically, though not surprisingly, Griffin might be one of the most vocal supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline. In fact, his 2012 election website still contains one of his pro-pipeline TV spots on its front page.

He's also been strongly critical of the Obama administration's cautious approach in evaluating whether to greenlight the pipeline, and he's the unofficial spokesman for a pipeline tube manufacturer, Welspun, based in his district (it's actually owned by a parent company in India, but Griffin won't tell you that).

And yet voters in his district, including voters in the oil-swamped neighborhood of Mayflower, voted for Griffin by landslide, supermajority margins. 65 percent of Faulkner voters chose to re-elect Griffin in November when he both repeatedly ballyhooed the pipeline as a source of jobs, but also accepted $81,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas sector -- not including $53,000 from the Stephens Group, his biggest contributor, which boasts significant holdings in oil and gas, though not exclusively.

Meanwhile, Faulkner County is struggling to deal with the serious impact of natural gas fracking from its Fayetteville shale resources. Already, 1,200 earthquakes have swept the area recently along with, predictably, the usual radioactive wastewater deposits and so forth. In fact, the state has shut down several wastewater disposal wells after hundreds of earthquakes occurred in October, 2010 alone. And last month, a gas explosion destroyed a fracking facility in Shirley, Arkansas. Just speculating here, but what if the earthquakes from the fracking weakened the Pegasus pipeline?

Oh, and by the way, during his 2010 campaign, Tim Griffin proudly accepted donations from Halliburton, which is involved in developing the 2,800 gas wells in and around his district.

"I welcome the support of all who are interested in job creation," Arkansas Republican congressional candidate Tim Griffin, who received a $1,000 contribution from Halliburton's PAC last month, said in a statement e-mailed to OpenSecrets Blog. "The Fayetteville Shale is critical to job creation in Arkansas's Second District, and Halliburton is a player there in developing our natural gas resource."

It appears as if the only jobs being creating in Griffin's district are for cleanup crews to mop up the damage from the archaic dirty fuel he continues to endorse.

But I'm sure the Republican voters in Faulkner County will figure out some sort of convoluted justification for continuing to support the Keystone XL pipeline's biggest fanboy in Arkansas. As long as the pipeline doesn't snake through their own back yards, they'll probably continue to vote for their "drill, baby, drill" candidate -- a man who's at the center of a Venn Diagram of Awfulness that includes fracking, Keystone XL, Halliburton, Karl Rove, voter disenfranchisement and the Gonzales attorney scandal. Nevertheless, it's difficult to know what it will take for Americans to wise up and realize that fossil fuels aren't really worth the accompanying devastation. Until then, we'll just continue this endless cycle of voting for pro-oil candidates and pumping the same archaic fuel source into our SUVs, all the while lamenting the earthquakes, flammable tap water and rivers of heavy crude in our streets and oceans. In fact, I'm afraid that in the bigger climate crisis scenario, we'll likely end up forcing ourselves to endure the environmental damage we're creating rather than making the necessary sacrifices to mitigate it. And Tim Griffin's district and the people of Mayflower are just small cross-section of the broader crisis.