by Max Brantley
Government officials and others came together today in Little Rock to discuss the ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline, currently shut down on account of the Mayflower rupture, which runs through 13 miles of the Lake Maumelle watershed. It runs for 15.5 miles between shutoff valves through the land from which Central Arkansas gets virtually all its water supply.
Nobody from ExxonMobil attended, however.
A break like that which occurred in Mayflower, with spillage of some 5,000 barrels of oil, would produce exponential damage to the watershed. One of the two shutoff valves is manually operated, which means it would take longer to reach. The break in Mayflower was followed by a break this week in Missouri, though it caused only a negligible spill of Canadian tar sands crude (which sinks and is not as easily corraled by floating booms on bodies of water) because the pipeline isn't in operation.
You'll notice U.S. Rep. Tim "Pipeline" Griffin, who distributed the photo above, was on hand showing concern and assuring all that ExxonMobil, would be meeting with local officials on the watershed later this month. Griffin, one of the leading proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry similar Canadian crude through the Great Plains to Koch family refineries in Texas, has endeavored to distance that project from the Exxon pipeline and assure all that everything will be done to fix things in Arkansas.
Now is the time to make ExxonMobil come to the table. Nobody really believes they'll move the pipeline out of the watershed as Central Arkansas Water and others have asked (though they could, with ample resources and eminent domain power) in part because moving from one watershed merely moves the line to another. But they darn sure could explain why they did an early pipeline inspection (mentioned again at today's meeting), what that internal inspection found, what's the safety factor of the entire length of the 60-year-old line and how quickly the company can install more cutoff valves and more protection of the water in Lake Maumelle. Permission to restart the line is the only chip the public has to get Exxon to do right, and that means more than buying back the nearly two dozen homes in a Mayflower neighborhood soaked deep with oil laced with other dangerous chemicals.
Leslie Peacock was at the meeting and will add a report:
Mayor Mark Stodola reported to the group that Exxon would be able to meet with officials sometime during the week of May 13. He said he'll draft a letter to be signed by him, Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines, Central Arkansas Water CEO Graham Rich and Griffin demanding to know what steps Exxon will take before the flow of oil in the Pegasus line is started up again and the company's plans to prevent such a leak from happening again.
Stodola was particularly unhappy to learn from Rich that CAW asked Exxon two years ago to install extra valves in the pipeline as it crosses the Maumelle watershed but nothing has happened, and Quorum Court JP Tyler Denton called the situation "a train wreck" waiting to happen. Rich responded that the work wasn't a priority for Exxon; "they don't have the sense of urgency in this 13-mile stretch" that the water utility and officials have. He said Exxon's original records on Maumelle did not even indicate that the lake was a drinking water supply.
Griffin actually raised the Keystone pipeline, saying CAW should look at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's 57 safety requirements for Keystone for ideas to protect the Maumelle crossing. Rich said the utility is likely to contract with Jacobs Engineering for technical advice.
Rich outlined short-term safety measures it would like Exxon to take — including burying exposed pipe in concrete and adding automatic valves. He also said there needs to be better access to the line, some of which is located in rugged terrain accessible by only "rudimentary" roads. Given how quickly 210,000 gallons spilled from the easily-reached break in the Mayflower neighborhood, an inaccessible spill of 13 miles of Wabasca heavy crude would be catastrophic.
CAW attorney Jim McHaney outlined what legal recourse exists should ExxonMobil decline to work with government officials, including citizens suits under the Pipeline Safety Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act or the National Environmental Policy Act, or asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency to seek an injunction that would halt Exxon from starting the oil flow.