The Mayflower effect: Tougher rules in the pipeline? | Arkansas Blog

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Mayflower effect: Tougher rules in the pipeline?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2015 at 5:09 PM

Oil spill in Mayflower: March 29, 2013.
  • Oil spill in Mayflower: March 29, 2013.

Exxon-Mobil's Pegasus pipeline ruptured in Mayflower exactly two years ago yesterday, March 29. Homes were lost, ground was tainted and there are still issues to be resolved in court.

Could there be a silver lining? 

Elizabeth Douglass of Inside Climate News, which has won a Pulitzer for its reporting on the oil industry and oil spills, writes today that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is "floating what could become a new regulation to address problematic vintage pipe and other obvious risks that were factors in the rupture" of the 70-year-old section of the Pegasus pipeline. 

Douglass quotes Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, as saying "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 new rules would require companies to "prove that they know what kinds of pipe they have, that the lines have been pressure-tested, and that they don't contain repairs made using substandard techniques," Douglass writes. They would apply to pipelines in areas of high population or environmental sensitivity — like Lake Maumelle, Little Rock's drinking water supply, which the Pegasus line runs alongside.

Douglas notes there's no guarantee that PHMSA will order Exxon and other companies to submit to stricter safety verification on older pipelines. But if it does, Douglass writes, "about 95 percent of all hazardous liquid pipelines would be subject" to the rule.

Exxon reversed the flow of oil in the pipeline to carry Canadian heavy crude to the Gulf, which PHMSA and experts say contributed to the crack in the 70-year-old pipe. Last September, Douglass reports, PHMSA " issued a first-of-its-kind advisory that warned the pipeline industry that reversing the flow of oil and natural gas pipelines or changing the product they're carrying can have "a significant impact" on the line's safety — and that it "may not be advisable" in some cases. 

Not surprisingly, the American Petroleum Institute and the Association of Oil Pipe Lines are calling the rules "onerous." Here's what is onerous: Having your life turned upside down by a gusher of heavy, noxious crude oil. 

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