July 30, 2013

Exxon Mobil puts off discussion of pipe under Ark. lake

The company blames a manufacturing defect in the 64-year-old Pegasus pipeline that burst March 29 soiling a neighborhood and threatening a nearby lake.

The Associated Press

MAYFLOWER, Ark. — ExxonMobil Corp. says it wants an investigation into a March oil spill in a Mayflower neighborhood to wrap up before it opens discussions about a pipeline's path below a watershed that provides drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people in central Arkansas.

click image to enlarge

A crew member with Exxon Mobil washes oil from another crew member's boots in a subdivision in Mayflower, Ark., in this April 1, 2013. photo. The leak dumped about 210,000 gallons of heavy oil into the neighborhood.

AP / Log Cabin Democrat, Courtney Spradlin

In a letter sent Friday to public officials, Gary Pruessing, the president of the ExxonMobil Pipeline Co., said it would be premature to talk about the leaky pipeline's path below Lake Maumelle and its environs.

"The Pegasus Pipeline has been a safe and reliable pipeline with no major incidents for 64 years until the Mayflower breach," Pruessing wrote, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper reported Tuesday. "It would be premature to engage in discussions of significance until the investigation of the pipeline failure is complete.

The company said it would sit down with the public officials, including those with the Central Arkansas Water utility "at the appropriate time ... before the pipeline is placed back in operation."

The Pegasus pipeline burst March 29 near Mayflower, soiling a neighborhood and threatening nearby Lake Conway. Pruessing has blamed a manufacturing defect in the 64-year-old pipeline, which was carrying heavy oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

The company has said federal regulations prevent it from releasing all it knows about the 210,000-gallon leak, prompting criticism from Gov. Mike Beebe and others.

"I'm tired of everybody blaming everybody else for not releasing the information," said Beebe, who received a copy of the letter.

Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., have said the 13.5-mile pipeline segment in the Lake Maumelle watershed should be relocated.

"Community leaders and the public are entitled to know the facts so that we can do everything in our power to make sure the drinking water for more than 400,000 Arkansans remains safe," said Griffin, whose district includes Mayflower.

Pryor said the company should give a simple "yes or no answer" on whether it will move the pipeline as requested. "Exxon Mobil is dodging our question," he said.

Pruessing said in his letter to the public officials that additional tests are being conducted to determine why the pipeline failed.

"We recognize this process is not as expedient as some would like but taking the time to get to the full root cause is essential for determining the correct path forward. Let me assure you that (the pipeline company) is ... providing complete transparency to regulators," he wrote.

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