22-Foot Gash in Pegasus Pipeline Puts Gaping Hole in Safety Claims

Heavy rains move into Mayflower, Arkansas as cleanup of ExxonMobil pipeline proves ever more difficult

by Jon Queally
Common Dreams

Dustin McDaniel, the Arkansas Attorney General announced on Wednesday evening that a “22 foot long and 2 inch wide” gash along the Pegasus pipeline allowed crude oil to flood the town of Mayflower with thousands of gallons of tar sands oil on March 29.

“The pipeline rupture is substantially larger than many of us initially thought,” McDaniel said at the press conference.

Though he said the state does not yet have an official estimate of how much oil may have leaked through the hole, the Associated Press, citing filings from ExxonMobil and local officials, reports that “crews have recovered about 28,200 barrels of oily water and about 2,000 cubic yards of oiled soil and debris.”

ExxonMobil also delivered more than 12,500 pages of documents to the AG’s office, following a subpoena request by the state, though their contents remained unclear.

“More documents will be received and requested from Exxon in coming days,” McDaniel said. “But now everyone’s priority continues to be the cleanup efforts in Mayflower.”

McDaniels said his immediate concern was about heavy thunderstorms heading for the area that could disperse the oil into run-offs and make ongoing cleanup harder.

Later on Wednesday, as the storm hit Mayflower, activist-journalists from TarSandsBlockade documented the shifting weather and the impact on the spill area. As Treehugger reports:

A manmade disaster was made even worse by nature Wednesday night, as a severe thunderstorm hit Mayflower, Arkansas spreading the Exxon Mobil oil spill to the yards of homes along the cove and the main body of Lake Conway. For nearly two weeks, Exxon has maintained that oil has not reached Lake Conway, despite clear evidence both from aerial video and on-the-ground guerrilla reporting that showed oil had spread throughout a cove and wetlands, which are connected through ground water and drainage culverts to the main body of the lake. Images captured Wednesday night should put any doubt to rest that the main body of Lake Conway is now contaminated with oil.

Citizen journalists, Jak and Lauren, reporting for Tar Sands Blockade, braved the severe weather Wednesday, which included hail, lighting and chance of tornados, to report on what was happening to the site of the oil spill.

Watch their footage here.

It remains unclear what could have caused such a rupture, but experts have repeatedly warned that diluted bitumen—which is run at higher temperatures and contains more corrosive solvents and chemicals—puts added pressure on traditional pipelines.

As DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn reports:

In February, the Tar Sands Blockade group revealed photographs that appear to indicate that TransCanada – which is now building the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline in Texas – may be laying poorly-welded pipe there.

Could it be a faulty or corroded weld that led to the gash in the 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline? Did it corrode due to its age or as a result of error on Exxon’s part?

The 12,587 pages of documents will hopefully have some answers.