As of Monday afternoon, Exxon Mobil had yet to start excavating the area where a breach in its Pegasus pipeline has been releasing thousands of barrels of Canadian crude oil into the environment, meaning a fix could be days away. The major oil spill erupted Friday in the central Arkansas community of Mayflower, just a few minutes from Little Rock, swamping sections of the city in oily sludge and toxic fumes.
Built in the 1940s, the frail Pegasus pipeline is capable of carrying more than 90,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Patoka, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas. At the time of the spill, the pipeline was carrying heavy crude from Canada’s Pelican Lake field in northern Alberta, which had been blended with lighter oils and liquid gasses to allow it to travel through the pipeline.
According to Reuters, an Exxon spokesman would not provide any information on the last time the Pegasus pipeline underwent maintenance. This latest incident underscores the dangers of trans-continental pipelines such as the Keystone XL pipeline, which is pending State Department approval.
Environmentalists and safety experts warn that the pipeline would expose millions of Americans, their land and waterways to oil spill pollution like the one in Mayflower, Arkansas, especially when giant oil companies seem reluctant to invest money in upgrading aging pipelines and other facilities.
“In November 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation slapped ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. with a fine of $26,200 for allegedly allowing more than 5 years to lapse between inspections of a stretch of Pegasus that underlies the Mississippi River, between Missouri and Illinois, last decade,” Reuters reported.
More than half of the pipelines in the U.S. were built in the 1950s and 1960s during the post-WWII oil boom, according to a report by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
The Washington Post reported that Exxon Mobil had sent 15 vacuum trucks and 33 storage tanks to Mayflower on Sunday to start the cleanup process. The company said it had recovered about 12,000 barrels of oil and was actively trying to prevent it from seeping into nearby Lake Conway via the city’s storm drains.
Video and pictures of the spill show oil running through residential streets like rivers and turning lawns into lakes of black sludge. Initial reports said about two dozen homes had been evacuated in the area, but others in the area speculated that the number was likely higher. Reports of oiled ducks, birds, and other wildlife also mounted on Monday prompting Mayflower officials to warn residents against directly handling oiled animals.