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Are Pipeline Spills a Foregone Conclusion?

By Daniel J. Graeber | Tue, 21 May 2013 22:10 | 1

Exxon Mobil hasn't asked federal regulatory authorities to restart the Pegasus oil pipeline, which burst open in a neighborhood in Mayflower, Ark.  In March, a 22-foot rupture in the pipeline spilled about 5,000 barrels of diluted Canadian crude oil into an area of marshland, though the company said it's been effectively cleaning the area with long-term remediation in mind. Policymakers on both sides of the Canadian crude oil debate have focused on issues ranging from emissions to economic stimulus. If pipelines like Keystone XL have any chance of approval, perhaps pipeline integrity should be the focal point of real policy debates.

Exxon said it was still looking into what caused a 22-foot gash to appear in the wall of its 65-year-old Pegasus oil pipeline. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said his office was pouring over 12,500 pages of information sent to his office by Exxon. Those documents were related to maintenance, inspection and safety of the 850-mile oil pipeline. Exxon, for its part, said it was combing over data taken from inside the pipeline itself in an effort to figure out what happened before the spill. That inspection, a spokesman said, could take at least another month.

Exxon already removed the damaged section and replaced it with new pipe. About a month after the Arkansas incident, about a barrel of oil leaked from the same pipeline about 200 miles north of Mayflower. The "wait and see" reaction to the Pegasus spill, and potentially the delay in the restart, may be part of Exxon's evaluation of the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline. Last week, a measure dubbed the Northern Route Approval Act passed through a Republican-led committee on its way to the full House. The bill would leave the fate of Keystone Xl in the hands of policymakers, who may have a vested interest in seeing that the project gets built.

Related article: Exxon Oil Spill in Arkansas, Keystone Spoiler?

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., cast his vote against the Northern Route Approval Act. He expressed frustration that lawmakers were moving the debate away from renewable energy and focusing more on how best to circumvent normal review processes. Last year, the White House passed new laws that would stiffen the penalties for pipeline safety violations and mandate more inspections. That decision followed a 1,000-barrel spill in the Yellowstone River and a 20,000-barrel spill in Michigan. Lawmakers debating Keystone XL, however, have pressed for few additional assurances for pipeline integrity.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the Council on Foreign Relations last week the "real" environmental issue with oil from Canada was whether it traveled through a pipeline or by rail.  One of the "real" issues has to do with emissions. Upstream, emissions work out to be "almost nothing globally," the prime minister said. Downstream, it's more likely that a train will derail than a pipeline will burst open, he said.

Talking points over pipelines are focused on economic and energy security interests on one side of the argument versus emissions and cleanup on the other. Given the legacy of pipeline spills since the Keystone XL debate began more than four years ago, the "real" issue may be the lack of debate over just why so many of these pipelines have burst open in the first place.

By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com

About the author

Contributor
Daniel J. Graeber
Company: Oilprice.com
Position: Senior Analyst

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  • the Lorax on May 27 2013 said:
    The group NacSTOP has been following the Pegasus pipeline as it continues on into Texas, & down to the refineries at Nederland. This ancient pipeline is exposed at all of the creek crossings. In some places it is laying in the water & at other locations it is suspended in the air above. This is obviously inadequate to be transporting a toxic substance at high pressure. Go to www.nacstop.org to see video & photos.

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