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Exxon oil pipeline leak causes extensive pollution in Arkansas town

02 April 2013

Exxon's Pegasus pipeline, which has a 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) capacity of crude oil, was shut after the leak was discovered on March 29 near the town of Mayflower. The leak forced the evacuation of 22 homes. The pipeline was built in the 1940s and carries Canadian Wabasca heavy crude between Patoka, Illinois and Nederland, Texas.

According to Reuters, the 848-mile (1,381 km) 50-centimetre diameter pipeline used to transport crude oil from Texas to Illinois. In 2006 Exxon reversed it to move crude from Illinois to Texas in response to growing Canadian oil production and the ability of US Gulf Coast refineries to process heavy crude.

Exxon said it had no specific estimate of how much crude oil had spilled, but the company said 12,000 barrels of oil and water had been recovered by April 1.

Officials from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) were on site to investigate the spill.

The Wall Street Journal said the EPA had declared the Arkansas leak a “major spill,” a label put on any spill of 250 barrels or more.

Fifteen vacuum trucks remained on the scene for cleanup, and 33 storage tanks were deployed to temporarily store the oil. Crews were steam-cleaning oil from property, Exxon said, while some fought in rainy weather to keep the oil from reaching nearby Lake Conway through storm drains.

The Arkansas spill drew fast reaction from opponents of the 800,000 bpd Keystone XL pipeline, which also would carry heavy crude from Canada's tar sands to the Gulf Coast refining hub.

Environmentalists have expressed concerns about the impact of developing the oil sands and say the crude is more corrosive to pipelines than conventional oil. On March 27, a train carrying Canadian crude derailed in Minnesota, spilling 15,000 gallons of oil.

Earlier, PHMSA proposed that Exxon pay a $1.7 million fine over pipeline safety violations stemming from a July 2011 oil spill from its Silvertip pipeline in the Yellowstone River. The line, which carries 40,000 barrels per day in Montana, leaked about 1,500 barrels of crude after heavy flooding in the area.

Exxon has 30 days from the March 25 order to contest those violations.

According to PHMSA, the US has 2.3 million miles of pipelines.

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