Monday, March 30, 2015

Two Years After Exxon's Mayflower Spill, Will Tougher Pipeline Rules Go Beyond Talk?

Two years ago, a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline sent a river of oil into a Mayflower, Ark., neighborhood, uprooting 22 families. The Pegasus pipeline failure became a cautionary tale that exposed—not for the first time—critical limitations of today's pipeline safety regulations. (Credit: Workers clean up the March 29, 2013 oil spill in Mayflower/Faulkner County Concerned Citizens Advisory Group) Click to Enlarge.
It's been two years since a broken 1940s ExxonMobil pipeline flooded an Arkansas neighborhood with Canada's heaviest oil, and the ripple effects of the spill have made it to Washington D.C., where regulators are poised to end decades of complacency by addressing the dangers of older pipelines across the country.

For the first time, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is proposing a rule to address problematic vintage pipe and other obvious risks that were factors in the rupture of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark.

"The Pegasus spill seemed to be a tipping point," said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog group.  "PHMSA is now telling pipeline companies, 'here's what you should think about if you have older pipelines, and when you should replace them,'—and you never would have heard that coming out of their mouths before Mayflower."

The effort by PHMSA is in the early stages, and there's no guarantee that it will result in new mandatory measures for pipeline owners.  But if the rule takes effect, about 95 percent of all hazardous liquid pipelines would be subject to stricter safety verification because of their age, location or other factors, according to PHMSA.  Separately, new guidelines just for pre-1970 pipelines could affect more than half of the nation's 484,000 miles of pipelines carrying natural gas and hazardous liquids such as oil and gasoline.

The ExxonMobil line was made from pipe that was manufactured nearly 70 years ago and widely known to be prone to dangerous cracking along its lengthwise seams.  The line had split open or leaked nearly a dozen times during the oil company's own testing a few years before the spill.  Despite those factors, ExxonMobil gave little weight to the threat of cracks or seam failure in its testing, spill prevention and maintenance plans for the Pegasus, according to PHMSA.

Read more at Two Years After Exxon's Mayflower Spill, Will Tougher Pipeline Rules Go Beyond Talk?

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