Exxon oil spill cleanup ongoing in Arkansas, pipeline shut

Mon Apr 1, 2013 6:58pm EDT
 
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By Suzi Parker and Kristen Hays

MAYFLOWER, Ark./HOUSTON (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp continued efforts on Monday to clean up thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude oil spilled from a near 65-year-old pipeline in Arkansas, as a debate raged about the safety of transporting rising volumes of the fuel into the United States.

The Pegasus pipeline, which ruptured in a housing development near the town of Mayflower on Friday, spewing oil across lawns and down residential streets, remained shut and a company spokesman declined to speculate about when it would be fixed and restarted.

Exxon, which was fined in 2010 for not inspecting another portion of the Pegasus line with sufficient frequency, had yet to excavate the area around the Pegasus pipeline breach on Monday, a critical step in assessing damage and determining how and why it leaked.

Police set up a check point keeping residents away from the affected area, while helicopters mapping the spill continuously circled the neighborhood on Monday. A strong smell of oil, which resembled asphalt, permeated the town well beyond the affected area, according to a Reuters witness.

Two front lawns less than fifty feet from where the rupture occurred were blackened by oil. Crews in yellow hazmat suits bagged up oil-covered leaves from the yards.

Exxon said in a statement that 10 "oiled ducks" were being treated at a local animal welfare center. Two more ducks had been found dead, the oil major said.

The spill in this small commuter town has stoked a discussion about the environmental dangers of using aging pipelines to transport heavy crude from Canada, including tar sands, as a boom in oil and gas production in North America increases volumes moving across the continent.

The Pegasus line, which can transport more than 90,000 barrels per day of crude from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas, was carrying Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude at the time of the leak, a bitumen oil from the massive Pelican Lake field in northern Alberta. It needs to be blended with lighter oils or natural gas liquids to flow through pipelines.   Continued...

 
Workers scrub crude oil from their boots in the Northwoods subdivision where an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, April 1, 2013. REUTERS/Suzi Parker