Exxon replacing oiled Arkansas lawns, ruptured pipeline still shut

Wed Apr 3, 2013 6:15pm EDT
 
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By Kristen Hays

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp on Wednesday was digging out oiled lawns to replace them with fresh sod in an Arkansas neighborhood where a crude oil pipeline ruptured last week, but the line remained shut with no estimate of when it would restart, the company said.

While response crews had begun removing oiled dirt and grass around houses in the subdivision, a plan to excavate the area around the pipeline breach remained under development for U.S. regulators' review.

The company's Pegasus pipeline, which can transport more than 90,000 barrels per day of Canadian crude oil to Texas from Illinois, ruptured on Friday in the subdivision in Mayflower, Arkansas, about 20 miles northeast of Little Rock.

Exxon told the U.S. Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that the company estimated 3,500 to 5,000 barrels of crude leaked, but the company has not yet qualified its publicly released estimate of several thousand barrels.

PHMSA noted Exxon's specific estimate in a corrective order the agency issued late Tuesday that requires Exxon to develop a pipeline restart plan, test the damaged part of the line and get regulatory approval to restart post-repair.

PHMSA's order said Exxon learned of the problem when pressure dropped in the pipeline, and had shut valves on either side of the breach within 16 minutes.

Crude bubbled up to the surface and leaked onto residential lawns and streets and into storm drains. Local responders quickly built dikes to block it from reaching nearby Lake Conway, a popular fishing lake, before Exxon crews had mobilized to put booms on the water as a precaution.

"They saved the lake with that effort," Ed Barham, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Health, told Reuters on Wednesday.   Continued...

 
Workers clean up oil following a spill from Exxon's Pegasus pipeline near Mayflower, Arkansas April 1, 2013. REUTERS/Greenpeace/Karen E. Segrave/Handout