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It began on March 29. A pipeline in Arkansas no one but Exxon seemed to know about (code name: Pegasus) spilled thousands of barrels of tar sands "oil" before being shut down. What has followed is a strange juxtaposition of events that only be described as the crazy quilt fabric of our society.

Within hours of the spill being reported, the EPA notified Exxon it had violated the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act. As long the company cleaned up the mess quickly, the feds would just be there to monitor the situation on the ground.

The discharge of a prohibited quantity of oil or a hazardous substance is a violation of the Clean Water Act, as amended by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA).  Under OPA, the responsible party is liable for clean-up costs and damages resulting from an incident.  A responsible party is the owner, operator, or person in charge of a facility or vessels from which the oil is discharged or poses a threat of discharge.
The process leading to the spill was set in motion in 2006 when Exxon wanted to reverse the flow, change the contents, and increase the operating pressure for a 65-year-old pipeline. The old pipeline that once carried refined petroleum products to the Midwest was soon carrying tar sands bitumen under high pressure. We learned the oversight process is so lax that all the company had to do was ask.
"Our regulations don't specify how much product a pipeline carries. There is no regulation if they want to change the type of crude they carry," said Damon Hill, a spokesman for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a part of the Transportation Department. "As far as reversing the flow of a pipeline, it is not a safety issue."
After the pipeline broke and made a mess, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration decided to restrict the pressure of the Pegasus pipeline when it reopens.

In an effort to protect the public from disturbing images of tar sands bitumen covering yards, streets, creeks, and a lake, Exxon was allowed to prohibit overflights of the area and harassed reporters that asked too many questions. See this post by Horace Boothroyd III for a discussion of Exxon's bullying of reporters.

We also learned about a loophole that allowed Exxon to avoid paying into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Tar sands bitumen is not oil for the purpose of paying taxes and protecting the public.

The Obama administration was unhappy that reporters asked questions about whether the tar sands oil spill in Arkansas had any bearing on the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The environmental impact statement written for the State Department by consulting firms with close ties to the oil industry discounted the likelihood of major spills and large areas of contamination. From The Hill:

White House spokesman Jay Carney ended a testy exchange with a reporter on Air Force One Wednesday by routing questions about review of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline to the State Department.

Along the way, Carney and the reporter sparred over the definition of “hypothetical.”

Carney played defense when fielding a question about, among other things, whether Friday's spill of Canadian oil from an Exxon pipeline in Arkansas will affect the White House decision on Keystone XL.

All pipeline leaks are hypothetical until they happen. The problem is that all pipelines leak.

Five days after the spill in Arkansas, an Exxon "heavy oil" refinery outside of New Orleans released a foul-smelling and likely toxic cloud.

ExxonMobil first reported releasing 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide and 10 pounds of benzene, a volatile organic carbon compound known to cause cancer, because those amounts are the minimum required for reporting, Screws said. But the company has since said it is unsure exactly what chemicals were involved or how much may have been released, he said.
It took public officials over 12 hours to determine the source of the smells after calls began flooding into emergency responders. Good thing this was not a real emergency because the air monitoring system in Louisiana is a joke.

Exxon released the standard statement of corporate concern.

“We apologize to neighbors for any inconvenience this leak incident may have caused,” said Chalmette Refining, LLC, Janet Matsushita, manager. “The health and safety of neighbors, community, and employees are our top priority.”
Days after the pipeline and refinery spills, the National Safety Council awarded Exxon the Green Cross for Safety medal. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was holding court prior to accepting the medal. Of course, he was not interested in talking about pipeline breaks or refinery spills, but rather wanted to talk about the computer habits of his employees. He lives in fear that hackers might do mischief.
Exxon Mobil Corp. is targeting employee habits in its effort to improve computer security, which has become “extraordinarily important” to preventing disasters and safety risks, CEO Rex Tillerson said.
Tillerson is either oblivious to irony or planning a stand-up comedy routine after he retires.
He said the company’s executives are studying human behavior to understand better why workers sometimes make bad choices and how to stop them.
This from the company that has been funding a propaganda campaign to mislead the public about fossil fueled climate change and smear climate scientists.

And no story about tar sands oil and pipeline spills would be complete without a little crazy from the conservatives north of our border. In November, Enbridge proposed to reverse the flow, change the contents, and increase the pressure in an old pipeline so tar sands bitumen can flow west to east.

On 29 November 2012, Enbridge filed its application under section 58 and under Part IV of the National Energy Board Act. Enbridge is seeking approval for the reversal a 639-kilometre segment of Line 9 between North Westover, Ontario and Montreal, Québec. In addition, Enbridge requested to increase the capacity of the entire Line 9 from approximately 240,000 barrels per day (bpd) to approximately 300,000 bpd. Also included in the application is a request for the revision to the Line 9 Rules and Regulations Tariff to allow transportation of heavy crude oil.
Days before the Pegasus pipeline spewed tar sands bitumen in Arkansas, public officials in municipalities along the pipeline route raised concerns about the Enbridge proposal during public hearings. Apparently, they did not believe Enbridge's assurances that nothing could go wrong by forcing tar sands bitumen under high pressure through old pipelines.

Days after the Pegasus spill, someone decided to prank the residents of Kingston in Ontario, which is along the route of Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline. Mailboxes were filled with an official-looking announcement from Enbridge claiming there had been a small spill in the pipeline, which was being cleaned up. Residents were encouraged to visit a website for more information, which contained photos from the Arkansas spill. Heads exploded.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver all but called the prank an act of terrorism.

"In our democratic society, all Canadians are free to express their views on the relevant issues of the day. However, our government condemns manipulative and possibly criminal tactics and the spreading of false and alarming information designed to frighten and mislead the public."
The spokesperson for Enbridge appeared on Sun News (often called Fox News of the North) to condemn the act in no uncertain terms. She said the company called the police and wrung her hands over elderly people that might have been scared by the false news of an oil spill. (Watch her spin the safety of the proposed pipeline reversal project around the 2:00 minute mark.)

Meanwhile, conservative commentators on Sun News were practically rabid with rage. (My favorite part of the following video is the appearance by Tim Ball, a clown with a geography degree that pretends to be a climate expert on the denial circuit.)

Never mind that Enbridge is proposing to do exactly what was done in the Pegasus pipeline before it leaked. Think of the audacity of someone calling attention to the spill in Arkansas while Enbridge is working hard to assure the Canadian public there is nothing to worry about.

One does have to marvel at the speed at which a cabinet minister, Enbridge, and conservative media reacted to the hoax in a small town, all within hours of the notices appearing in mailboxes. Their reaction time was light years faster than the response by Enbridge to its tar sands pipeline leak in Michigan or by Exxon to its tar sands pipeline leak in Arkansas. Fancy that.

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Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 08:25 AM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots and Climate Change SOS.

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