Ten years ago today, the Pegasus Pipeline, then operated by Exxon-Mobil, dumped over 100,000 gallons of crude oil into a suburban community in Mayflower, Arkansas. The spill forced the evacuation of 22 homes, killed hundreds of animals, severely impacted the surrounding wetland habitat, and nearly entered Lake Conway.
Following this environmental disaster, Exxon-Mobil was found innocent and un-culpable in the oil spill, because “despite adherence to safety regulations and guidelines, oil spills still do occur,” a federal appeals court stated in 2017.
Over a decade later, this disaster serves as an unfortunate yet avoidable reminder of a major problem with current pipeline safety regulations. To this day, when pipelines fail, causing disasters, operators can walk away scot-free.
In this case, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal pipeline safety regulator, filed violations against Exxon-Mobil and attempted to fine the operator. However, following a multi-year legal battle, a federal appeals court sided with Exxon-Mobil when the oil giant stated “there was no proof its actions contributed to the spill.” The court found that the operator had followed the law in conducting adequate inspections and analysis in accordance with federal regulations.
Years before the Mayflower disaster, Exxon-Mobil, within the bounds of its integrity management program, had conducted multiple tests which uncovered more than 10 ruptures or leaks along the Pegasus Pipeline. Despite this, the operator didn’t attempt to address the concerns that existed on the pipeline.
The Mayflower Oil Spill is a perfect example of integrity management programs failing to protect the people and environment. Time and time again, these systems fall short of their intent to keep product in the pipe and surrounding communities safe. The public is often left with the burden of recovery and a lack of trust in the regulator’s ability to prevent this type of disaster from happening again.
Fast-forward ten years later and Exxon-Mobil has sold the pipe to Energy Transfer. It has been reported that the Mayflower community has concerns that the new operator may restart the pipeline. Energy Transfer has neither confirmed nor denied that crude oil will flow through the Pegasus Pipeline again.