Maintenance Woes for MT Pipelines

Monday, July 11, 2011 @ 03:07 PM gHale


Exxon Mobil wasn’t the only company in 2009 that faced the wrath of the federal agency overseeing oil and gas pipelines.

There has been a spate of pipeline developments occurring over the past 18 months that have state, local and federal legislators jumping over each other to make sure constituents remain out of harm’s way.

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Several companies operating pipelines in Montana faced similar safety violations at the same time ExxonMobil received them for its Silvertip pipeline, which ruptured two weekends ago and dumped tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) cited the companies — including ConocoPhillips in Billings and Front Range Pipeline in Laurel — in 2009 for poor corrosion control. It also directed the companies to develop a better system for training employees on emergency response procedures.

In response to this most recent oil spill, the PHMSA issued a corrective action order Tuesday to ExxonMobil, requiring it to make safety improvements along the Silvertip pipeline.

Exxon must re-bury the pipeline underneath the Yellowstone riverbed “to protect it from external damage, and conduct a risk assessment on the Silvertip pipeline where it crosses any waterway,” the order read.

The order also requires Exxon to submit to the PHMSA a “restart plan” before the company can begin using the pipeline again.

In May, Exxon officials performed tests on the Silvertip line where it runs underneath the Yellowstone to ensure it could handle the stress of a flood-stage river.

“We felt comfortable at the time,” Gary Pruessing, president of ExxonMobil Pipeline Co.

The company decided to keep the line running, something Pruessing said he now regrets.

In all, an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil — roughly 42,000 gallons — spilled before the company could stop the flow of oil from the damaged 12-inch-diameter pipeline.



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