Everything You Need to Know About the Exxon Pegasus Tar Sands Spill

In Greek legend, everytime the winged horse Pegasus struck his hoof to the Earth, an “inspiring spring burst forth.” Unfortunately for residents in Mayflower, Arkansas, when the Pegasus pipeline ruptured, the only thing bursting forth was a nasty tar sands oil spill.

On Friday afternoon,the Pegasus pipeline operated by Exxon Mobil ruptured, flooding an Arkansas neighborhood with thousands of barrels of Wabasca Heavy crude from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta.Here’s what you need to know about the spill, with links to some reporting on this awful event, which at very least ruined the holiday weekends of many Mayflower, Arkansas residents, many of whom didn’t even know the pipeline was running through their neighborhood.
What is Pegasus?

The 20-inch pipeline carries diluted bitumen — originating from the Alberta tar sands — for 858 miles from Patoka, Illinois to refineries in Nederland, Texas. It was built in the 1940s and can carry up to 95,000 barrels a day.

Pegasus was built to funnel crude from the Gulf Coast up to the Midwest, but the flow was reversed in 2006 to help relieve the tar sands crude bottleneck in Cushing, Oklahoma. (The same reason given by proponents for the construction of Keystone XL.)

It is worth noting that a similar line reversal has been proposed by Enbridge to potentially ship tar sands crude for Atlantic export from a port in Maine.

In 2009, Exxon Mobil successfully petitioned regulators to allow them to expand capacity on the pipeline from 65,000 barrels per day to 95,000 barrels per day, a nearly 50 percent increase.

How bad is the spill?

In 45 minutes, the spill spread through the suburban neighborhood, filling the streets and covering lawns with dilbit.

Because of the dangerous vapors emitted from the dilbit, residents of at least 22 homes were forced to evacuate.

Here’s a firsthand video account of the dilbit running over lawns and streets.

The spill was first estimated by the EPA at 84,000 gallons, but already over 189,000 gallons of oil and water (combined) have been collected.

On Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard has written about her frustrating interactions with Exxon and is properly chastising the company for its vague answers.

Is it under control?

Cleanup crews scrambled to prevent the diluted bitumen (or dilbit) from reaching Lake Conway, an important local source of drinking water and a popular recreation spot. A local judge, who was responsible for declaring a state of emergency and is coordinating response efforts, told Lisa Song of InsideClimate News that they were successful in doing so.

Dodson said emergency crews led a “monumentally successful” effort to prevent the Exxon spill from entering nearby Lake Conway, a popular recreational area. First responders set up earthen dams to contain the flow of oil, he said, and crews are working to shore up the protections as rains continue to fall and complicate the cleanup operations.

Sign of things to come?

Just last week, we wrote about how the oil spill from a derailed train in Minnesota was being used by Keystone XL boosters as an argument for the pipeline. We sarcastically ended that post with a “sure, pipelines never spill,” linking to a catalog of multiple spills along existing stretches of the Keystone pipeline system.

Pegasus provides yet another example — on top of those Keystone spills and the so-called DilBit Disaster of Enbridge’s Line 6B — of how pipelines carrying tar sands crude are more susceptible to leaks and ruptures and spills. Here’s an earlier post on the many problems with tar sands pipelines.

Who is on this story?

We’ll update this story with any new developments, but here are some of the best pieces of reporting on the Pegasus spill thus far:

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This article is written by Ben Jervey and is published at http://www.desmogblog.com/2013/04/01/everything-you-need-know-about-exxon-pegasus-tar-sands-spill

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