Exxon Mobil AR Pipeline Leak

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 @ 08:04 PM gHale

Exxon Mobil said one of its pipelines leaked “a few thousand” barrels of Canadian heavy crude oil near Mayflower, AR, prompting the evacuation of 22 homes.

The pipeline breach took place late Friday, Exxon said, in the 20-inch diameter, 95,000-barrel-a-day Pegasus pipeline, which originates in Patoka, IL, and carries crude oil to the Texas Gulf Coast, the country’s main refining center. Mayflower is about 25 miles north of Little Rock.

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By Sunday afternoon, the company had deployed 15 vacuum trucks and 33 storage tanks to start cleaning up and temporarily store about 12,000 barrels of oil and water they recovered, the company said. Crews were steam-cleaning oil from local properties, Exxon Mobil said, while some fought in rainy weather to keep the oil from reaching nearby Lake Conway through storm drains.

The pipeline, which was built in the 1940s and recently expanded, was carrying low-quality Wabasca Heavy crude oil from Alberta, said Exxon Mobil spokesman Alan T. Jeffers. According to the Crude Monitor Web site, Wabasca Heavy is a blend of oil produced in the Athabasca region, which is where the oil sands are.

An existing Keystone pipeline carries crude oil that comes from the oil sands deposits in Alberta to Patoka through Exxon Mobil’s lines. Jeffers said he did not know if this batch of crude oil came from the Keystone line.

Critics of the Keystone XL pipeline said corrosion risks are greater in pipelines carrying low-quality bitumen-laden crude from the oil sands.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the Arkansas leak was a “major spill,” a label put on any spill of 250 barrels or more. Exxon Mobil said it was preparing for a spill of up to 10,000 barrels, but the estimate would probably be lower than that.

The company and other responders were battling to keep the crude oil, which gushed into yards and ran down residential streets in a Mayflower neighborhood, from leaking into Lake Conway, a popular recreation and game-fishing spot. Cleanup crews deployed 3,600 feet of boom near the lake as a precaution, and as of Sunday afternoon no oil had reached the lake, Jeffers said.

He added that dikes had been built to prevent runoff into the lake, but heavy rains were making that difficult, and runoff from storm drains into the lake was a concern.

Jeffers said the company received phone calls from people in the area at the same time its pipeline monitors in Houston noticed a drop in pressure in the line. The pipeline is buried about two feet deep in the Mayflower area, he said. Exxon Mobil said responders were on the scene within half an hour. Approximately 120 Exxon Mobil workers are responding to the incident in addition to federal, state and local officials and workers.

Exxon Mobil said fumes from the oil spill posed a risk in “high pooling areas,” where oil was on the ground and where crews were working with safety equipment.

The company said the cause of the spill is under investigation.

The Arkansas spill came just four days after the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed fining Exxon Mobil $1.7 million for a July 2011 spill in Montana’s Yellowstone River. In that incident, Exxon Mobil’s 12-inch Silvertip Pipeline spilled 1,509 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Mont., during flooding.

The agency said Exxon Mobil did not properly address known seasonal flooding risks to the safety of its pipeline, including erosion of riverbeds that could leave pipelines exposed to damage from debris flowing downstream. The agency also said Exxon Mobil did not implement measures that would have mitigated a spill into a waterway.

Exxon Mobil said the unusually large fine — possibly the result of a doubling of civil penalties under the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011 signed into law last year by Obama — contradicted a report that said the company took “reasonable precautions.” The new ceiling is $2 million. The company said it spent about $100 million cleaning up damage from the spill.

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