Another Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptures

Photo: KARK News

Photo: KARK News

Exxon Mobil pipeline problems are back in the news and this time it’s in Arkansas.

From InsideClimate News:  A pipeline that ruptured and leaked at least 80,000 gallons of oil into central Arkansas on Friday was transporting a heavy form of crude from the Canadian tar sands region, ExxonMobil told InsideClimate News. 

Local police said the line gushed oil for 45 minutes before being stopped, according to media reports.

Crude oil ran through a subdivision of Mayflower, Ark., about 20 miles north of Little Rock. Twenty-two homes were evacuated, but no one was hospitalized, Exxon spokesman Charlie Engelmann said on Saturday.

In an interview with InsideClimate News, Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson said emergency crews prevented the oil from entering waterways. The judge issued an emergency declaration following the spill and is involved in coordinating clean-up efforts among federal, state and local agencies and Exxon.

Read the story here: Exxon Confirms Ruptured Pipeline in Ark.

There’s a round-up of news coverage, including photos and video, at Treehugger:  Exxon pipeline breaks spilling 84,000 gallons of Canadian crude oil near Arkansas lake

These U.S. pipeline ruptures are getting more media attention now because of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project that would carry Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico. But the Keystone project aside, the reality is that pipeline leaks and ruptures are, unfortunately, everyday occurrences. In January AP reported that “pipeline spills caused by flooding and riverbed erosion dumped 2.4 million gallons of crude oil and other hazardous liquids into U.S. waterways over the past two decades.” Pipeline ruptures in rivers are particularly dangerous, but pipeline ruptures happen on land, too, where they can also cause extensive damage.

 

NYT0910-pipeline-spills

Graphic: New York Times

A few months after the 2011 Yellowstone River pipeline spill, the New York Times reported that, despite a decline in the number of significant incidents from 2001 to 2010, “the amount of hazardous liquids being spilled, though down, remains substantial. There are still more than 100 significant spills each year — a trend that dates back more than 20 years. And the percentage of dangerous liquids recovered by pipeline operators after a spill has dropped considerably in recent years.”

Following up on the paper’s pipeline safety reporting of 2011, Times reporter Dan Frosch wrote in December 2012:  A forthcoming federal report on pipeline safety has found that members of the general public are more likely to identify oil and gas spills than the pipeline companies’ own leak detection systems.

The report found that pipeline control rooms, which help monitor whether a line is functioning properly, identified leaks in hazardous liquid and gas transmission lines only 17 percent and 16 percent of the time. Control rooms identified leaks in gas distribution pipelines, like those that go into homes or businesses, less than 1 percent of the time, according to the report.

The study was commissioned by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration….

The study found that air patrols and ground crews used by pipeline companies, as well as contractors, were more likely to identify problems on a line than detection systems. And private citizens and emergency responders were typically the most likely to find evidence of a pipeline accident, it concluded.

“It has been clear for years that these computerized leak-detection systems don’t work,” said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust and a member of the pipeline agency’s hazardous liquid technical advisory committee, which has reviewed the draft report. “The question for me is why have regulators continued to allow the pipeline industry to keep selling the public on leak detection systems that don’t work as advertised?”

This is just a snapshot of the pipeline safety problems in the United States, but when a federal government report indicates that members of the general public are more likely to identify oil and gas spills than the pipeline companies’ own leak detection systems, that’s cause for alarm around the world.

As I’ve written before, much of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline passes through remote territory where spills could easily go unnoticed for some time. And in these remote areas everyone isn’t running around with cell phones with cameras. Nor are there many TV crews with helicopters. I’ve talked to people in Cameroon and Chad who have noticed and reported oil leaks, to no avail. I’ve talked to people who have monitored ongoing oil leaks from rusting pipelines in Equatorial Guinea and Angola, to no avail. And, of course, there’s Nigeria, an ongoing social and environmental disaster on an epic scale — but who cares?

I wish that when reporting about pipeline risks and ruptures in the United States, reporters would simply indicate that this is a global issue. The stakes are high everywhere and in countries lacking clean-up capacity all incidents can be disastrous.

 

 

 

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