Federal regulators hit ExxonMobil with a $2.6 million fine and sharply rebuked the oil giant for its failure to maintain and detect problems with its 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline, which burst underneath an Arkansas community in March 2013, flooding it with about 210,000 gallons of highly toxic, dense tar sands oil.
In an Oct. 1 order delivered to the oil company, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) faulted ExxonMobil for a number of deficiencies it said contributed to the spill that forced residents of Mayflower, Ark., about 25 miles north of Little Rock, to evacuate.
Twenty-two families had to abandon their homes and several residents in the wider community were sickened by oil fumes that pervaded the area for days. The spill also contaminated a wooded area and threatened a nearby lake.
The PHMSA’s investigation of the pipeline breach resulted in nine safety violations that demonstrate a lack of concern for the environment and the safety of communities its pipelines transect. Central to the agency’s criticism of ExxonMobil is documentation showing the company has known for decades that the Pegasus pipeline is prone to rupture, an awareness based on a history of previous failures.
The agency found that ExxonMobil failed to assess the integrity of the pipeline continually when it knew there were serious problems with it, including cracks that that ran along seams of the pipe lengthwise. The agency also cited ExxonMobil for mishandling critical pipeline tests, including missing deadlines for regular safety tests and failing to prioritize testing the section of the pipeline that ruptured.
Additionally, PHMSA found that the company failed to repair four defects in the pipeline it discovered before the breach occurred.
The agency also ordered ExxonMobil to fix all the known problems and thoroughly evaluate the pipeline for other potential problems, including the weld seams that may be prone to rupture. The company must also take a number of other measures to improve its testing, risk assessment process, and personnel training.