Exxon Cleans Up After Major Canadian Oil Pipeline Spill in Arkansas

oil pipeline
(Getty Images)
By Matthew Robinson and David Sheppard

Exxon Mobil was working to clean up thousands of barrels of oil in Mayflower, Ark., after a pipeline carrying heavy Canadian crude ruptured, a major spill likely to stoke debate over transporting Canada's oil to the United States.

Exxon shut the Pegasus pipeline, which can carry more than 90,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Pakota, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas, after the leak was discovered on Friday afternoon, the company said in a statement. The company did not have an estimate for the restarting of the pipeline.

Exxon, hit with a $1.7 million fine by regulators this week over a 2011 spill in the Yellowstone River, said a few thousand barrels of oil had been observed.

A company spokesman confirmed the line was carrying Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude. That grade is a heavy bitumen crude diluted with lighter liquids to allow it to flow through pipelines, according to the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, which referred to Wabasca as "oil sands" in a report.

The spill occurred as the U.S. State Department is considering the fate of the 800,000 barrels per day Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude from Canada's oil sands to the Gulf Coast. Environmentalists, concerned about the impact of developing the oil sands, have sought to block its approval.

Supporters say Keystone will help bring down the cost of fuel in the United States.

The Arkansas spill was the second incident this week where Canadian crude has spilled in the United States. On Wednesday, a train carrying Canadian crude derailed in Minnesota, spilling 15,000 gallons of oil.

Exxon expanded the Pegasus pipeline in 2009 to carry more Canadian crude from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast refining hub and installed what it called new "leak detection technology".

Exxon said federal, state and local officials were on site and the company said it was staging a response for a spill of more than 10,000 barrels "to be conservative". Clean-up crews had recovered approximately 4,500 barrels of oil and water.

"The air quality does not likely present a human health risk, with the exception of the high pooling areas, where clean-up crews are working with safety equipment," Exxon said in a statement.

Exxon said that by 3 a.m. Saturday there was no additional oil spilling from the pipeline. Images from local media showed crude oil snaking along the road in a neighborhood.

"Cleanup efforts are progressing 24 hours a day," said Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers, who added the oil had not leaked into nearby Lake Conway.
"We were very fortunate that the local responders made sure the oil did not enter the water."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency categorized the rupture as a "major spill," Exxon said, and 22 homes were evacuated following the incident.

A spokesman for the Department of Transportation confirmed that an inspector from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration had been sent to the scene to determine what caused the failure. The Environmental Protection Agency is the federal on-scene coordinator for the spill.

Some environmentalists argue that oil sands crudes are more corrosive than conventional oil, although a Canadian Energy Pipeline Association report, put together by oil and gas consultancy Penspen, argued diluted bitumen is no more corrosive than other heavy crude.

The U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this week proposed a fine of 1.7 million for Exxon over pipeline safety violations relating to a 2011 oil spill in the Yellowstone River. Exxon's Silvertip pipeline, which carries 40,000 barrels per day of crude in Montana, leaked about 1,500 barrels of oil into the river in July 2011 after heavy flooding in the area.

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez supertanker struck a reef in Prince William Sound off Alaska and spilled 250,000 barrels of crude oil.

(Additional Reuters reporting was added to update this article.)

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The Government and the people of Canada DO NOT want the Kystone pipeline built going across Canada to the Pacific Ocean to be exported ___so instead the company wants to build it going across the USA to the Gulf of Mexico all to be EXPORTED out of the USA.

April 01 2013 at 9:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Please educate your selves. The information is available about all pipeline ruptures. They are far more common than anyone thinks. They can build safer double wall pipes and use better quality pipes, like they use double hull oil tanker ships now. Instead they build the pipelies as cheaply as possible. ALL of the Keystone oil is going to be EXPORTED by the Canadian Keystone pipeline owners to China and to Europe and none of it is going into our cars.


April 01 2013 at 9:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A few thousand barrels here, a few thousand barrels there. So what? It is not as if the costs of cleaning it up is not a business tax deduction. Besides, it is not affecting the properties of the pipeline executives or their homes or businesses.

It has been reported the company that wants to build the Keystone pipeline declined to use the best leak detection technology, since that is more expensive. And that speaks volumes about their approach.

I guess hiring people to clean up a spill that should have been prevented it how the oil and gas industry helps create more jobs.

Reminds me of a statement in an environmental impact statement about drilling for oil in the arctic. It stated that since there are oil spills everyday throughout the globe, an oil spill in the arctic really doesn't add that much to the amount of oil that is already spilled each day. And that is the type of attitude that makes people angry.

April 01 2013 at 8:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yeah , lets build that Keystone Pipeline ; its completely safe .

March 31 2013 at 3:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wait till oil companies get thru putting 8000 miles of feeder pipes and 50000 wells in N. Dakota. We can just fence it off as a superfund site. And guess who will get to pay for the cleanup. Another hidden cost of relative cheap fuel

March 31 2013 at 2:57 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand OF COURSE not a thought on that derailment and this pipeline fiasco being ACTS OF either ECOTERRORISM or the plain old terrorism.

...........nothing to see here BEYOND THE PRICE INCREASE.

March 31 2013 at 1:25 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply