ExxonMobil last week provided a copy of a metallurgical analysis to federal regulators detailing flaws in its Pegasus pipeline that researchers believe formed the root cause of the March 29 oil spill in Mayflower, Ark. But the oil giant is fighting to keep the information about recent inspections of the 850-mile pipeline out of the public eye, triggering concerns that the 70-year-old tube may have many more oil spills in store for those in its path.
According to Fox 16 in Little Rock, “Six weeks before the spill happened ExxonMobil sent a piece of equipment through the line during a routine test to check for potential problems,” but the company has not made the results of that inspection public, arguing it is private information and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. ExxonMobil has also withheld the inspection records from those who have requested them, including a Congressional committee and two Arkansas Congressmen, among others.
ExxonMobil’s refusal to disclose the results of the February 13 inspection and another inspection from 2010 has concerned some officials charged with public safety. John Tynan with Central Arkansas Water, another official who has asked for the inspection reports, told Fox 16 that the same pipeline that ruptured in Mayflower runs through the Lake Maumelle watershed and its condition affects the safety of hundreds of thousands of people.
“We don’t believe the line should be restarted until we know what caused the rupture in Mayflower and until we’re confident that none of those conditions or situations are present,” Mr. Tynan told Fox 16. “This information is needed for us to evaluate the safety of the drinking water supply for 400,000 people throughout the region,” he added.
Mr. Tynan’s concerns are well-founded. The Mayflower oil spill wasn’t the first nor last time oil has escaped from the aging pipeline. A month later, the pipeline spilled dense Canadian tar-sands oil into the yard of a Ripley County, Mo., resident. Although the spill wasn’t as serious as the one just a few weeks prior, it justified concerns that the pipeline could breach anywhere along its Illinois-to-Texas path, anytime.
In a test performed just a few weeks before the Mayflower spill, ExxonMobil sent a sophisticated device called a “pig” through the pipeline to look for defects. Oil companies and regulators use these mechanical pigs to detect corrosion, cracks, and faulty seams.
If ExxonMobil’s pigs failed to detect the flaws that caused the massive rupture in Mayflower, then, as Carl Weiner, the executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust told InsideClimateNews, that probably means “there is no way of finding these flaws.”
If ExxonMobil found flaws but did nothing to address them, as some environmentalists and safety experts believe, then the company could face criminal charges on top of the pollution fines it will have to pay.