LITTLE ROCK — A year after more than 200,000 gallons of oil spilled in Mayflower, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel questioned Monday whether ExxonMobil would ever reopen the pipeline that ruptured and caused the spill.
An ExxonMobile executive said on a Sunday news discussion program that the company does intend to reopen its Pegasus pipeline, although not until it can confirm that the pipeline is safe through testing that may take more than a year.
“I don’t understand how either the company or (the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) agrees to open one inch of this pipe until they conclusively say what happened in the first place,” McDaniel said Monday at the University of Arkansas School of Public Service during a panel discussion on the March 29, 2013, spill.
McDaniel said the spill remains “shrouded in mystery” and asked, “How in the world can they with any degree of certainty assure the government or the people that it is not about to happen again at any random time?”
ExxonMobil declined an invitation to take part in the panel discussion, according to the Clinton School’s dean, Skip Rutherford, but in an interview that aired Sunday on the television show “Talk Business & Politics,” ExxonMobil Vice President for U.S. Pipeline Operations Karen Tyrone said the company is submitting a remediation plan to PHMSA that calls for the pipeline to be subjected to a “spike hydrostatic test.”
The test will push water through the pipeline it at 1.39 times the maximum operating pressure to find weak points, Tyrone said. She said the plan may take another year or more.
“When we execute that remedial work plan, we will repair, reinforce, or replace the pipe as necessary to ensure the integrity of the pipe,” she said. “We won’t restart the pipeline without PHMSA approval and without convincing ourselves that we can safely do that.”
Tyrone also said the company still considers the Pegasus pipeline “a very valuable asset.”
ExxonMobil has said a manufacturing defect caused the spill. Tyrone said in the interview that chemical makeup of the joint that ruptured was “different than we have ever seen.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, said during Monday’s panel discussion that he is researching what the state can do to protect itself from pipeline accidents, but “I think the No. 1 tool that we have is the political process.”
Rutherford, who moderated the discussion, asked Tammie Hynum, chief of the Hazardous Waste Division of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, “Would you eat fish caught by Lake Conway?”
“I personally do not eat fish, but what I can say is that … if I did, I would not hesitate to eat fish that were caught on Lake Conway,” she said.
During a question-and-answer period, Little Rock activist Adam Lansky complained that “you guys are playing softball” and that “there is a much stronger bond between our representatives and Exxon and its companies than (between) our representatives and our people.”
He said more pipelines are planned for Arkansas and asked the panel members what they were going to do to “stop it.”
“What is that you would like for us to stop?” McDaniel asked. “No more fossil fuels?”
“Yes,” Lansky said, then asked the audience, “Is there anyone in this room that wants another pipeline in Arkansas?”
Several audience members raised their hands. Replies of “Yes” and “I do” were heard.
“Most people drove here, and so fossil fuels are still part of our reality,” McDaniel said. “I would like very much for them not to be, but they are, so we have to be safe to the best of our ability.”
Also participating in the discussion were Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson and Central Arkansas Water CEO Graham Rich.
The Mayflower spill forced the evacuation of 22 homes. About 20 lawsuits have been filed over the accident, including one by McDaniel and U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer.