ExxonMobil oil spill in Arkansas falls to agency with industry tie | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

ExxonMobil oil spill in Arkansas falls to agency with industry tie

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 8:52 AM

A MARKS THE SPOT: Of Mayflower pipeline rupture.
  • Inside Climate News
  • A MARKS THE SPOT: Of Mayflower pipeline rupture.

Are you not yet following Inside Climate News, the Pulitzer Prize winning watchdog of the pipeline industry?

Bookmark it. This article is all about the federal inspection of the causes of the ExxonMobil pipeline rupture that poured Canadian heavy crude — tar sands in generally accepted lingo — on a Mayflower neighborhood.

The article notes that the National Transportation Safety Board, which conducted a thorough independent investigation of a 2010 spill, is not investigating the Mayflower deluge.

"We just don't have the resources to investigate everything," Keith Holloway, an NTSB spokesman, told InsideClimate News. Holloway said the agency investigates only when there is significant loss of life, extensive damage to the environment, or if the incident is something the agency hasn't seen before. The final decision on whether to investigate is generally made by the agency's Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials, he said

You have heard that another federal agency is at work. Yes, but ....

When the NTSB passed on investigating the Arkansas spill, that task fell to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a branch of the Department of Transportation that is responsible for developing and enforcing regulations for 2.5 million miles of pipelines.

While the NTSB's primary responsibility is to conduct investigations, that isn't the case with PHMSA. The agency's primary goal is setting regulations, not investigations.

Having PHMSA rather than the NTSB looking into the spill has raised concerns about the objectiveness of the final report.

"PHMSA could have the best of all intentions, but its role in the pipeline regulatory process means that it is susceptible to influence from industry and lobbyists," said Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc., a pipeline consulting firm based in Redmond, Wash.

A 2011 investigation by the New York Times revealed that PHMSA is underfunded and understaffed. Some of the agency's employees also have professional ties to the fossil fuel industry. PHMSA administrator Cynthia Quarterman, for example, served as legal counsel for Enbridge, the culprit in the Michigan spill, before moving to her current position at the federal agency.

Do you feel better knowing the lab that will study the burst pipe was chosen by ExxonMobil? That the federal agency no longer has anyone on the ground in Arkansas? That the agency won't answer questions about the extent of ExxonMobil's involvement in the investigation? (It's enough for me to know that the supposed "joint command" issuing information in Arkansas is, to every appearance, a wholly Exxon-run operation.) There's much more, including detailed reporting on discrepancies in the time ExxonMobil first became aware of problems on the pipeline. Federal records indicate that came two hours earlier than Exxon claims.

Read Inside Climate News.

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