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Monday, January 6, 2014

Exxon won't restart ruptured Pegasus pipeline anytime soon

Posted By on Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 4:09 PM

In the wake of the Mayflower oil spill, the federal agency that regulates pipelines set conditions for ExxonMobil to meet before it can restart its ruptured Pegasus pipeline. Nine months later, Exxon hasn't gotten very far. 

In July, it completed metallurgical testing on the ruptured pipe. According to the Corrective Action Order from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Exxon then had 90 days to submit a Remedial Work Plan — essentially a plan for correcting the problems that led to the rupture. But Exxon asked for an extension, and received a 90-day one, which expired today.

Now Exxon spokesman Aaron Stryk says Exxon has asked for and received an additional 90 day extension. The new deadline is April 7. 

"The extension allows us more time to ensure a thorough work plan, which will include steps to address factors known or suspected to have contributed to the failure," Stryk said. "In the meantime, the Pegasus Pipeline remains shut down, and it will only be restarted when we are convinced it is safe to do so and have the approval from PHMSA."

Once Exxon finally submits its remedial plan, it'll still have to submit a restart plan and receive approval from PHMSA before it can restart the line.

As we've reported before, even though the outage is costing Exxon as much as $450,000 per day, the company is moving unusually slow. The company restarted a different oil line that ruptured on the Yellowstone River in 2011 less than three months later. The Enbridge pipeline that spilled more than a million gallons of tar sands oil in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 was running again three months later. 
Months old reporting from Elizabeth Douglass, of InsideClimate News, still holds true.

Exxon's deliberation could reflect fears that the Pegasus problems might be systemic and costly to solve. But analysts say Exxon also is mindful that additional leaks could sink its chances of salvaging the line for good and also undermine public support for new pipeline projects such as the controversial Keystone XL.

Like the Pegasus, the proposed Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL would carry tar sands oil to U.S. refineries. However, the line's critical northern segment (from Canada to Nebraska) has been stalled for five years as builder TransCanada tries to win U.S. State Department approval amid a heated debate over the pipeline's merits and environmental and climate impacts.

Several major pipeline projects could be affected by the Pegasus case because they would reverse the flow inside older, existing pipelines to accommodate Canada's surging production of heavy oil — which is what Exxon did with the Pegasus in 2006.

Anthony Swift, an attorney at the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, is one of several Keystone XL opponents who have cited the Mayflower spill as being an example of industry-wide hazards.

"The problems on the Pegasus pipeline have served as a canary in the coal mine for many members of the public looking at similar proposals in their own backyard," Swift said. "It really does show the risks of spills on these major pipelines, and that includes major pipelines like the Keystone XL."


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