ExxonMobil facing $2.6 million fine for Mayflower spill


WASHINGTON — The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on Wednesday notified ExxonMobil that it faces more than $2.6 million in civil penalties related to the Mayflower oil spill.

The administration found nine “probable violations” of pipeline safety regulations during its investigation of the accident and inspection of operation and maintenance records from ExxonMobil Pipeline, the operator of the Pegasus pipeline that ruptured on March 29. The rupture released about 5,000 barrels of crude oil, forcing dozens of residents from their homes in a Mayflower subdivision.

PHMSA sent a letter on Wednesday to Gary W. Pruessing, president of ExxonMobil Pipeline in Houston, informing him of its findings and proposed compliance order.

The violations focused on ExxonMobil’s failure to adequately consider the greater threat of pipeline ruptures to the section of pipe that includes the Mayflower area where pre-1970s electric-resistance welded seams were demonstrated to be more prone to failure, according to the letter signed by R.M. Seeley, director of PHMSA’s southwest region in Houston.

Under PHMSA’s proposed compliance order, ExxonMobil would be required to modify its “Integrity Management Plan” procedures to adequately identify, assess and respond to risks posed by pre-1970s ERW pipe.

Aaron M. Stryk, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, said in a statement that the company is disappointed that PHMSA decided to issue the notice.

“We are still reviewing the NOPV (Notice of Probable Violation) and have not yet determined our future course of action. However, it does appear that PHMSA’s analysis is flawed and the agency has made some fundamental errors,” Stryk said.

ExxonMobil Pipeline is under a “corrective action order” and is preparing a work plan on Pegasus to allow for the completion of previously approved supplemental testing and analysis on the pipeline.

“We are committed to understanding the factors that led to the release in Mayflower first and then establish the integrity of the entire pipeline to ensure an incident like this does not happen again,” Stryk said. “In the meantime, the Pegasus pipeline is down, and we will not restart it until we are satisfied it is safe to do so and have the approval of PHMSA.”

Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, issued a statement saying that the report raises more questions about ExxonMobil’s operation of the pipeline.

“When it comes to protecting our communities, our environment and our drinking water, meeting the minimum requirements of the law should be a given, and going the extra mile to ensure pipeline safety is the right thing to do,” Griffin said.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., issued a statement commending PHMSA for issuing the $2.6 million penalty against ExxonMobil.

“ExxonMobil has caused undue harm to Arkansas families, and they must be held accountable,” Pryor said. “The fight’s not over, but this is a positive step forward as we work to make the Mayflower community whole again.”