The Clinton School hosted a panel discussion Monday afternoon commemorating the one year anniversary of ExxonMobil’s oil spill in Mayflower. In attendance: Congressman Tim Griffin, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, Tammie Hynum of ADEQ, Graham Rich of Central Arkansas Water (CAW), and Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson, with Dean Skip Rutherford moderating. (Rutherford said that Exxon had been invited to send someone as well.) It was a packed house; public interest in the incident and the future of the ruptured Pegasus pipeline evidently remains high, in no small part because the line just south of Mayflower crosses 13 miles of watershed that drain into Little Rock’s major drinking reservoir, Lake Maumelle.
Karen Tyrone, VP of Exxon’s pipeline affiliate, indicated in a recent interview with Talk Business that the company isn’t giving up on the pipeline anytime soon: It plans to conduct a rigorous series of tests in the coming months to look for additional weak spots, as per a long-delayed remedial work plan it will soon submit to federal pipeline regulators for review. Tyrone said the quality testing on the pipe would likely take a year or more.
So. Does that mean we can expect 90,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil to resume their daily course through the Lake Maumelle watershed in, say, mid-2015? It certainly seems like a possibility. CAW, which manages the lake, has previously called for Exxon to reroute the 13 miles of pipeline in its watershed before even considering a restart. Rutherford asked the utility’s CEO if such a reroute might happen.
“Based on statements they have made, I think it’s highly unlikely,” Rich said, which drew some distressed murmurs from the crowd. Earlier, CAW spokesman John Tynan told the Times earlier on Monday that the utility was being realistic about its negotiations with Exxon in regards to the reroute.
“We have to proceed forward with two goals in mind,” said Tynan. “We have the goal of eliminating the risk completely, having zero risk to the watershed, and that’s where you look at either abandonment or relocation. That’s something that … we’re going to continue to push for and try to discuss, because ultimately zero risk is preferable for us. But at the same time, we recognize that that may not happen overnight, and so we need to minimize risk to the greatest extent possible in the interim, and that’s where we look at what kind of integrity testing they’re doing, what type of safety improvements they’re doing, and how all of those things layer together to minimize the risk.” Such safety improvements might include additional shutoff valves in the watershed and improvements to existing valves.
At the panel discussion, Griffin said he’d prefer if the pipeline wasn’t turned back on. He also pointed out that the best means of keeping the Pegasus shuttered is … aggressive federal regulation by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Coming from a reliably pro-business, anti-regulation Republican congressman, this is fairly amazing stuff.
“If folks stay on the gas, so to speak, it will be very difficult as a practical matter for Exxon to restart the pipeline,” Griffin said. “They may want to; I’m sure they do. But I think part of the reason it’s taking so long is .. .there are hearings going on with PHMSA … Just because PHMSA has approved the restart of the southern section does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that — you know, this is the present administration, so I don’t think they’re leaning towards … getting it going again. They tell me it’s nowhere near going again, and I think that’s right.”