Lack of Inspection Causes Leaks in 850-Mile Pipeline

Two months after the ExxonMobil pipeline leak that spilled more than 100,000 gallons of oil in Mayflower, AK, the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) reports that the same 65-year-old pipeline (Pegasus) has had 13 leaks since 2002.

ExxonMobil Corp. spokesman Aaron Stryk said the 13 leaks did not take place on the main Pegasus pipeline. Styrk continued by stating that “They were within our facilities and generally involved small releases from pumps, valves, fittings or from ancillary piping…Three of the events involved a pipeline other than Pegasus.”

The 20-inch-wide Pegasus oil pipeline stretches 850-miles from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas. The largest of the 13 spills occurred in Illinois, and resulted in 15 barrels spilling. The other spills ranged from four to 10 barrels—each barrel contains 31.5 gallons—of spilled heavy crude oil. PHSMA documents indicated that corrosion caused six of those leaks. As a result, the EPA filed a joint complaint with the state of Arkansas that calls for action against ExxonMobil Pipeline Company.

James Williams, energy analyst for WTRG Economics says that corrosion is very common in pipelines. “Companies try to catch the stuff ahead of time; sometimes they don’t.” According to the pipeline agency, about 25 percent of pipeline accidents are caused by corrosion. Corrosion is a problem that can’t always be stopped, but it can be monitored.

The pipeline agency also reported that ExxonMobil was fined in 2010 for $26,200 for lack of inspection of a section the pipeline beneath the Mississippi River. Federal regulations require an inspection cycle of a five-year time frame.