Thursday, October 10, 2013

Public safety activists warn 65-year-old pipeline threatens Texas lake; legislator seeks meeting with ExxonMobil

SEVEN POINTS, TX  – Three Arkansas residents who witnessed the spill of 200,000 gallons of a toxic petroleum product into a Lake Conway neighborhood seven months ago traveled six hours and 330 miles to tell their story to Cedar Creek Lake residents, but local public officials failed to show up to hear them speak at the Oct. 5 town hall meeting.

Public safety activists from Dallas urged concerned residents at the meeting to “make enough noise” to attract the attention of the public officials who missed the forum about the failed 65-year-old Pegasus Pipeline. They suggested the residents target elected city, county and state officials, as well as water district board members.

Public Citizen and Safe Community Alliance sponsored the forum at the Seven Points Recreation Center. It featured speakers who warned residents about the risk of a local environmental catastrophe if the 20-inch diameter pipeline operated by ExxonMobil transporting diluted tar sands bitumen is allowed to resume operation. It ruptured in Mayflower, Ark., on March 29.

The Pegasus Pipeline runs through the communities of Kemp, Mabank, Gun Barrel City and Seven Points, including a path under the lake and through Tom Finley Park. The environmentalists warned that a similar rupture could occur on Cedar Creek Lake.

"We feel like it might not be a matter of if, but when there is a tar sands spill," said Rita Beving, a Texas-based lobbyist with Public Citizen, a national Washington, D.C.-based group.

Gun Barrel City resident Price Howell said the small number of people attending the town hall meeting and the absence of public officials concerned him. He noted the organizations distributed 3,000 fliers in the Cedar Creek Lake area to advertise the meeting.

Howell has worked for several months trying to raise concerns about the pipeline among Cedar Creek Lake residents since he learned that it runs through his property in Harbor Point Estates. “I’m really disappointed,” he said.

Beving urged residents who are concerned about the antiquated pipeline to complain to local city and county officials, water district officials and state legislators. "You've got to make enough noise to get their attention," she said.

Beving said residents need to ask their public officials if they are prepared for an emergency response and an evacuation if there should be an environmental disaster on Cedar Creek Lake.

A request for a show of hands at the meeting revealed no one identifying themselves as a public official, although one member of the East Cedar Creek Lake Fresh Water Supply Board of Directors was in the audience.

Organizers of the meeting said they invited public officials, including representatives of the Tarrant Regional Water District, to attend.

"We were told Saturdays were not good," said Steven Joseph DaSilva, one of the founders of Safe Community Alliance, in reference to TRWD officials. "They seem to be assuaged by the line Exxon Mobil has given them."

ExxonMobil officials have declined interviews about the pipeline, but they contend in written statements that the company manages its pipelines with advanced technology that conforms to federal regulations, according to a recent report in The Dallas Morning News. The inspections include monitoring by aircraft and interior pipeline devices.

In the most recent press release issued by ExxonMobil about the Arkansas disaster dated May 29, the company said significant progress had been made in cleaning up the spill. “Progress continues, but we know our work is not complete,” said Mark Weesner, ExxonMobil incident commander. “We will be here until the job is done.

 “While I know you have heard us say it many times before, we truly regret the spill continues to impact many in the community and are appreciative of everyone’s continued patience. We are working hard to get the job done as quickly and safely as possible.”

 Lawsuits are pending against ExxonMobil for the accident in Arkansas as well as one in Montana on the Yellowstone River two years earlier. The lawsuits maintain that Irving, TX-based ExxonMobil was negligent in its maintenance of its 8,000-mile U.S. pipeline network.

The speakers at the town hall meeting in Seven Points included Arkansas residents who witnessed the March 2013 spill in Mayflower on Lake Conway that poured 200,000 gallons of the petroleum product into a neighborhood before it flowed into the lake. The pipeline ruptured as a result of its age and the pressure inside it, according to the speakers. ExxonMobil officials described it as a system failure.

The area remains contaminated after months of clean-up efforts with only 84,000 gallons of the toxic material being collected, according to the activists. The spill exposed the Arkansas residents to the carcinogen benzene and six other dangerous chemicals, according to Environmental Working Group's report "Poisons in the Pipeline."

Residents reported a "horrible smell" and being unable to breathe and of experiencing burning in their throats, noses and eyes, the report said. No evacuation occurred.

Lake Conway, which was a popular fishing lake, is still  contaminated, according to environmentalists. A bubbling oil sheen remains on the lake, according to pictures taken last week and showed at the town hall meeting.

The pipeline was shut down by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration after the spill. ExxonMobil officials want to reopen the pipeline once repairs are made, according to opponents of the plan who are organizing a petition drive to shut it down permanently.

Bevings told the Cedar Creek Lake residents they needed to contact their state legislators and ask them, “What are you going to do to protect Texans? This is a Texas issue.” The audience erupted in applause when Bevings said, “This isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue.”

The activists said Texas legislators and other state officials have been “eerily silent” about the pipeline since its rupture in Arkansas.
Texas State Rep. Lance Gooden told the Cedar Creek Lake Area Chamber of Commerce he plans to meet with ExxonMobil officials about the 65-year-old failed Pegasus Pipeline running through Cedar Creek Lake.

Gooden said he had discussed the pipeline with Tarrant Regional Water District officials, and he asked for a meeting with the oil company's officials. The pipeline, which ruptured in Mayflower, Ark., March 29 and poured 200,000 gallons of diluted tar sands bitumen into the Lake Conway neighborhood, has been shut down for seven months by the federal government.

"I would think that we don't want that to be reactivated if we can prevent it," Gooden said.

The legislator said that like most Cedar Creek Lake residents, he also had never heard about the pipeline and its course through the Cedar Creek Lake area until recently when people alarmed about the Arkansas rupture started contacting him.

Beving said another concern about the transport of diluted sand tar bitumen is that it is not considered a crude oil so it is exempt by the Internal Revenue Service from contributions to the U.S. Spill Liability Fund. Companies transporting crude oil must pay an eight-cents per barrel levy into the fund for clean ups, she said. “Who would bear the liability?” she asked.

Prior to the spill in Arkansas, few people in the Cedar Creek Lake area realized the pipeline runs through the outskirts of Mabank, Gun Barrel City, and Seven Points on its way to Corsicana, and then to Beaumont and Nederland, Texas. Its route takes it under the middle of Cedar Creek Lake. It runs past Mabank High School, 505 Ranch Estates and the polo field, underneath Gun Barrel City Airpark's tarmac, through Harbor Point Estates, under Tom Finley Park and under Cedar Creek Lake Reservoir. It is buried only two-feet deep in the Cedar Creek Lake area. In other areas, such as near the Red River, it is exposed.

The pipeline was built in 1948, almost 20 years before Cedar Creek Lake was constructed in the mid-1960s. It was designed for the transport of diesel oil, but ExxonMobil purged the system in 2002, then reversed the flow and started transporting sand tars bitumen in 2006. The 850-mile pipeline runs from Nederland, TX, to Patoka, IL, passing through and crossing several tributaries that lead to drinking supplies.

The substance, which is a mined material from Canada that resembles asphalt, contains neurotoxins and carcinogens, according to the environmental organization. The substance is processed to remove the sand so it can be used for petroleum products.

DaSilva said ExxonMobil touted the repurposing of the pipeline for diluted tar sands bitumen as “the first of its kind” in the petroleum industry. The activist called it a “failed experiment,” saying, “Unfortunately the communities the pipeline ran through were treated as if they were expendable, like lab rats.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released a 630-page redacted report on inline testing of the portion of the pipeline running from Arkansas to Corsicana, according to Safe Community Alliance. The document was made available by the efforts of U.S. Rep.Tim Griffin of Arkansas (
griffin-releases-new-mayflower-pre-spill-reports-and-data-after-receiving-phmsa). It was prepared for ExxonMobil Pipeline Company by NDT Systems and Services. Inc.

The report lists thousands of anomalies on 206 pages, according to the group.

The group maintains that based on the report there are at least eight problems that were discovered in the ½"-wall of the pipeline under Cedar Creek Lake. The roughly one mile of pipeline that runs from the water's edge, under Tom Finley park, through the neighborhood of Harbor Point Estates, and then underneath the Gun Barrel City Airpark tarmac had as many as twenty six anomalies. Here the pipe is 3/8" thick, or less.

The group has reported problems that include mill anomalies, an internal problem that resulted during the pipe's manufacture; metal loss anomalies, most of which are the result of corrosion, and long seam anomalies, problems along the lengthwise joint where the pipe was welded.

The group claims that ExxonMobil Pipeline Company knew about these problems by the end of 2010, yet they continued to risk the health and safety of this and many communities by continuing to pump diluted tar sands bitumen through their unsafe pipeline. ExxonMobil officials have countered that they had no indication that the pipeline would rupture.

A similar spill occurred in 2010 in Michigan when a pipeline owned by Embridge ruptured spilling 840,000 gallons of diluted tar sands bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. The river remains contaminated three years later, according to environmentalists. That spill has cost $850 million in clean-up costs so far, according to environmentalists.