04 April 2013 – Federal US regulators have ordered US supermajor ExxonMobil to take corrective action before it can re-open a pipeline that burst in Arkansas and poured thousands of barrels of heavy oil into a residential neighbourhood.
The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration order restricts ExxonMobil from restarting the pipeline until the agency is satisfied that all safety precautions have been met.
The company must complete metallurgical tests to verify the pipeline’s integrity and support a written plan that outlines how the pipeline will be monitored upon restart.
The 850-mile-long, 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline, which ruptured last Friday in a section near Mayflower, Arkansas, has spewed somewhere between 3500 and 5000 barrels of oil into the streets and yards of the neighbourhood about 25 miles north-west of Little Rock, the state capital.
The spill estimates come from the pipeline regulators, which cited the operator as the source. ExxonMobil has not publicly disclosed any estimates of the spill volume. It has said about 12,000 barrels of water and oil had been recovered, and that it was preparing to clean up as much as 10,000 barrels of oil.
The corrective action order notes that ExxonMobil in 2006 reversed the system flow on the pipeline so that it now flows south from Illinois to Texas.
“A change in the direction of flow can affect the hydraulic and stress demands of the pipeline,” the pipeline regulator said in the order.
An investigation into the cause of the pipeline failure is ongoing, ExxonMobil said.
It also said that ExxonMobil in February had performed a “transverse flux in-line inspection” of the section of the line that failed, although the company had not yet received the results of the inspection.
“Having considered the uncertainties as to the cause of the failure, the age of the pipeline, the unavailability of the results of the February 2013 in-line inspection, the 2006 change in direction of flow, the location of the failure sight in a ‘high consequence area’… a failure to… require immediate corrective action would result in the likelihood of serious harm to life, property of the environment,” the order says.
ExxonMobil said it had received the order but had no further comment.
The pipeline leaked forced the the evacuation of 22 homes. It said most of the free-standing oil had been recovered and residual oil is being cleaned up.
A total of seven ducks have been found dead as a result of the spill. Another 16 oiled ducks, seven oiled turtles, nine oiled reptiles, one oiled beaver and an oiled muskrat are being treated.
No humans were injured and no damage to drinking water has been detected. The oil did not reach nearby Lake Conway.
ExxonMobil has fielded a total of 140 claims of property damage.
“ExxonMobil is paying for the cleanup and will honour all valid claims. Reports to the contrary are inaccurate,” the company said in a statement.
Chief executive Rex Tillerson said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle that he was “proud” of the way the company has responded to the spill.
“I’m proud of the response and I’m really proud of the coordination we’ve had with the local authorities,” Tillerson told the newspaper.
“It appears that it certainly inconvenienced some residents, which we’re sorry about that, but we’re helping them,” he said. “We’ll restore all of the damage that they may have suffered and we’re prepared and we’ve got a procedure to begin to excavate the line so we can find out what really happened.”
Tillerson was in Houston to receive an award from the National Safety Council for what the council said was ExxonMobil’s leading role in safety protocols and performance, according to the newspaper.
Meanwhile, the state of Arkansas has launched its own investigation into the spill.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has asked ExxonMobil to preserve and maintain all “documents, data compilations, tangible objects or other information” relevant to the “extensive oil spill” and ongoing clean-up efforts, according to a statement.
“This incident has damaged private property and Arkansas’s natural resources. Homeowners have been forced from their homes as a result of this spill,” McDaniel said.
Arkansas water officials also reportedly plan to ask ExxonMobil to relocate a portion of the Pipeline to ensure safe drinking water.
*Luke Jonson, Upstreamonline