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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Federal agency finds probable violations by ExxonMobil in Mayflower pipeline break, sets $2.6 million penalties

Posted By on Wed, Nov 6, 2013 at 3:05 PM

click to enlarge VIOLATIONS FOUND: Safety rules violated in Mayflower oil spill, federal regulators say. - EPA
  • EPA
  • VIOLATIONS FOUND: Safety rules violated in Mayflower oil spill, federal regulators say.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in a letter today notified the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company that it had found nine probable violations of pipeline safety regulations and proposed $2.6 million in civil penalties.

Here's the letter from PHMSA to ExxonMobil, whose Pegasus pipeline ruptured March 29 in a Mayflower subdivision and spewed 5,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands in the subdivision and nearby wetlands, including a cove of Lake Conway. The cleanup is continuing and has included purchase and removal of homes in the subdivision. Testing continues in Lake Conway.

A compliance order issued by the agency and included at the link requires additional actions by the pipeline company that will further delay any potential restarting of the line. Many critics hope the line isn't reopened or, at a minimum, is moved out of the watershed of Central Arkansas's main water supply, Lake Maumelle.

Among others, the regulators found the company had failed to properly consider the risk of seam failures in pipe made before 1970; didn't meet 5-year  assessment intervals; didn't give adequate priority to potential for problems in "high consequence areas"; didn't take prompt action on places identified as needing immediate attention; hadn't updated risk assessments, and failed to follow operating procedures.

The cumulative penalty amount comes from differing assessments for each of the nine probable violations. The biggest, $783,000, related to the nearby Lake Maumelle water supply.

PHMS said the pipeline company was supposed to have a manual of written procedures for normal operations and emergencies. But ...

The operator failed to follow its Operations and Maintenance procedures by selectively using  results of its Threat Identification and Risk Assessment Manual (TIARA) process in 2011 which resulted in the failure to properly characterize the risk of a release to the Lake Maumelle  Watershed, and other [high consequence areas] HCAs in the Conway to Foreman segment of the pipeline. This resulted in the failure to determine an "Identified Threat" related to Manufacturing existed on the segment ....

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor issued a statement:

ExxonMobil has caused undue harm to Arkansas families, and they must be held accountable. I commend the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for issuing this penalty. The fight’s not over, but this is a positive step forward as we work to make the Mayflower community whole again.

ExxonMobil offered this prepared response, through communications and media advisor Aaron Stryk:

We are disappointed that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has decided to issue a Notice of Probable Violations (NOPV) on the Pegasus incident.

ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (EMPCo) remains under a Corrective Action Order for the pipeline and is cooperating with PHMSA in all matters related to the investigation. PHMSA approved a 90-day extension last month for submitting a work plan on Pegasus to allow for the completion of previously approved supplemental testing and analysis on the pipeline.

We are committed to understanding the factors that led to the release in Mayflower first and then establishing the integrity of the entire pipeline to ensure an incident like this does not happen again. 

We will review the NOPV and will continue to work with PHMSA on any follow up actions.

In the meantime, the Pegasus pipeline is down, and we will not restart it until we are satisfied it is safe to do so and have the approval of PHMSA. 

Regarding next steps, we are still reviewing the NOPV and have not yet determined our future course of action. However, it does appear that PHMSA’s analysis is flawed and the agency has made some fundamental errors. For example, Alleged Violation #2 claims that EMPCo failed to conduct a re-assessment of Pegasus within 5 years of the 2005-06 baseline assessments. In fact, EMPCo conducted the required reassessment in 2010. This is shown by Alleged Violation Numbers 5 and 6 which reference the In Line Inspections tool runs performed in 2010 as part of the 2010 reassessment.

Speaking of health risks: a reader provides this article on a study of he health risks to oil spill cleanup workers.

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