As a Texas Benzene Leukemia and Toxic Tort attorney, I am directing the public to the dangers of benzene and its carcinogenic (cancer causing properties). Benzene is found in petroleum, gasoline products and oil and gas production.
Mayflower, Arkansas Oil Spill
Six months ago, 200,000 gallons of oil poured out into the streets of Mayflower, Arkansas before ending up in a popular local fishing lake. The source of the oil leak was a 65-year-old oil pipeline owned by Exxon Mobil Corp. Federal pipeline officials had warned for twenty years that the aging pipeline had a higher risk of failure because of an old manufacturing defect. Two years earlier, another Exxon pipeline had ruptured on Montana’s Yellowstone River despite government warnings.
Lawsuits are being filed against Exxon-Mobil oil giant, alleging that it was negligent in maintaining its 8,000-mile U.S. pipeline network. According to Exxon Mobil, “it manages its pipelines with a detailed and systematic integrity management program, consistent with the requirements outlined by the federal regulators.”
Scope of the Oil Pipe Rupture Problem
Since 2010 there have been more than 600 oil pipeline spills in the United States, the worst of which sent more than 840,000 gallons of crude into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River when a line owned by Embridge ruptured.
Exxon’s Silvertip Pipeline Guillotine break
Just east of Montana’s Rocky Mountains, Exxon’s Silvertip pipeline crosses beneath the Yellowstone River bound for an oil refinery upstream. In Spring 2012, the federal pipeline agency was concerned that the Spring flooding would erode the river bottom covering the pipeline, and the agency contacted Exxon to express “continuing concerns,” according to a report filed earlier this year.
On May 25, as the flooding worsened, Exxon and another company that operates a pipeline under the Yellowstone, WBI Energy, agreed to shut off their lines. But Exxon, after closing its line a few hours to assess the river, was running the Silvertip again.
At 10:40 p.m. on July 1, Exxon’s control center in Houston got an alarm that pressure on the Silvertip was dropping. Federal authorities would later learn that the line had become exposed to the floodwaters and suffered a “guillotine break” caused by passing debris. That night the staff manning Exxon’s control center missed or did not understand the alarm, and the foot-wide pipeline ran for almost another hour, dumping more than 60,000 gallons of oil into the river.
Earlier this year, federal pipeline officials fined Exxon $1.7 million for the spill, saying the company had “failed to consider all relevant risk factors” in operating the Silvertip. Exxon denied the charge and is awaiting a hearing before the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Engineering Techniques for determining Pipeline Failure
Engineers run water through the lines at high pressure, and robot-like devices called “smart pigs” scan the interior for signs of corrosion and flaws in the metal. Hair-thin cracks develop in the walls of pipe manufactured before 1970 because of a faulty welding technique.
The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration first warned oil companies about the problem in the late 1980s. 25% of U.S. 180,000 miles of petroleum pipeline potentially has the defect, and so the agency has decided against a recall and advised companies to inspect those lines more throughly.
When workers dug up the Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, they found a 22-foot gash running along its spine. The metal around the break was brittle and contained multiple fractures and according to experts, the aged Pegasus suffered from the same welding flaw the government had warned about.
Federal pipeline investigators are now trying to determine whether Exxon followed established protocols in maintaining the Pegasus line, which runs more than 850 miles between Patoka, Ill., and Nederland, Texas.
In 2010 the Transportation Department fined the company $26,200 for not inspecting the Pegasus where it ran under the Mississippi River. Three years later, Exxon Mobil was fined $112,300 for not performing required pressure tests on another oil pipeline in Louisiana.
For decades the Pegasus had transported oil from the Texas Gulf Coast north to Illinois, but once Canada’s oil sands fields took off, demand shifted. Before reversing the line, Exxon performed a hydrostatic test to check Pegasus’ integrity. The results, revealed multiple points along the line where the flawed weld failed to hold.
Exxon Mobil Denies Liability
In Mayflower, of the approximately 200,000 gallons that spilled, only about 84,000 has been definitively accounted for. Much of the rest would have been taken up in thousands of tons of soil and water that have been carted off, but no one is sure how much, said Ryan Benefield, deputy director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
That leaves unknown quantities of benzene, a known carcinogen, and other chemicals languishing in Mayflower. State water testing shows the lake is clean. But residents are worried that the fear of the spill will permanently reduce real estate values.
The Arkansas attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice have sued Exxon for alleged violations of state and federal environmental law.
Shezad Malik is an Internal Medicine and Cardiology specialist, a Texas Medical Doctor (retired) and Defective Medical Device and Dangerous Drug Attorney. Dr. Shezad Malik Law Firm has offices based in Fort Worth and Dallas and represents people who have suffered catastrophic and serious personal injuries including wrongful death, caused by the negligence or recklessness of others.