Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline problem — two spills in one month

 

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BIZMOLOGY — Q: What was built in 1948, is 850 miles long, and has spilled heavy crude oil in two states in one month? A: Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline.

The Pegasus pipeline is 20 inches in diameter and runs from Nederland, Texas, on the Gulf Coast to the Patoka Oil Terminal Hub in Patoka, Illinois. Buried two feet below ground, it carries 95,000 barrels per day when fully operational.

On April 30 the oil pipeline spilled a small amount of crude into the yard of a residential property in Ripley County, Missouri, only a few weeks after the same pipe spewed thousands of barrels of tar sands crude (diluted bitumen) in Mayflower, Arkansas.

Although only one barrel of crude leaked in Missouri, was quickly contained, and was cleaned up within days, the state of this and other aging pipelines is a cause of concern to environmentalists, residents living along the route of pipelines, oil and gas executives, and regulators.

The Missouri spill occurred 200 miles north of Mayflower, where some 5,000 barrels of heavy oil spilled from the Pegasus pipeline into a residential area on March 29, triggering a massive cleanup operation that continues to this day.

The pipeline was shut down after the Arkansas spill and was not in operation when the Missouri spill occurred.

The cause of the small Missouri spill, according to a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, was from a guide wire for a power line pipe that was installed 30 years ago. Located almost directly on top of the pipeline, it had worn down over the years, piercing the pipe. Exxon Mobil is reserving judgment on the matter.

At any case, the effects of corrosion and other deterioration on aging pipelines and other infrastructure continue to present a safety and environmental challenge.

What lies beneath? How long will it be safe?

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Photo by pfly used under a CC-Share-Alike license. (Disclaimer: This photo is not of the Pegasus pipeline. It is used to illustrate aging and corroded pipelines.)
Stuart Hampton

British editorial veteran Stuart Hampton has been covering oil and gas companies for Hoover's since the Neogene-Quaternary period. Well, actually, since the early 1990s. For the best overview of the oil industry and its history he recommends Daniel Yergin's "The Prize." You can also follow Stuart on Twitter.

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