This essay was cross-posted from nacstop.org
“Lurking beneath the surface of the ground lies the sinister threat of an antique pipeline carrying a corrosive and toxic slurry of tar sands and carcinogenic solvents. Temporarily quiet, the pipeline’s payload waits for remedial repairs to the segment that ruptured just in time for Easter weekend in Mayflower, Arkansas. Residents realized the threat only too late. One month later they continue to suffer from the disaster. Their homes had been built and bought without their knowledge of the Pegasus pipeline beneath their feet.
Not many people in the path of this pipeline likely knew of its existence. Many were not yet born when this pipeline was built in the late 1940s to carry the very fluid oil of the day. Fewer likely knew that this same pipeline had only seven years ago been re-awoken after years of dormancy, and re-purposed to carry something very different: diluted bitumen, or tar sands crude.
When built, this Pegasus pipeline, a.k.a. Patoka-Corsicana / Corsicana-Beaumont Crude Pipeline (in Texas), was unfettered by regulatory agencies. When re-purposed, and its flow direction reversed (it originally transported diesel oil from the Gulf Coast to Patoka, Illinois) there were no regulations in place to prevent it occurring, and any modifications made to the pipeline were done so only under the direction and discretion of its parent corporation, Exxon Mobil. Families there, and along the entire length of the pipeline, are at the mercy of a for-profit corporation.
One would like to believe that their health and safety would trump the profit motives of an industry, but experience has proven time and again that the reality is different. Experience has shown that forcing a tar sands & solvent slurry through aging pipes is a gamble. The health and safety of citizens in its path is just part of the ante in the big money game that these multi-million-dollar corporate CEOs are playing.
The blatant risk to the public is in few places as evident as it is along one very particular stretch of the Pegasus pipeline in Texas. It could be where it crosses just feet above the Keystone XL pipeline north of Winnsboro. It might be where it passes under Lake Fork, Cedar Creek, or Richland Chambers Reservoirs, each of which are part of municipal water supplies, including those of Dallas and Ft. Worth. It’s not necessarily at Fairfield Lake State Park where it passes under water and campgrounds. Nor is it where it is buried alongside the full length of Lake Livingston, a water supply for Houston and numerous surrounding communities. The most evident is actually in a relatively obscure location, one where Exxon Mobil’s CEOs are gambling on the integrity of their 64-year-old pipe.
Along a half mile stretch of the Pegasus pipeline, shortly before it and the Keystone XL meet again, is a beautifully wooded area of southeast Texas. It’s a rural area rich in wetland habitat where oaks and hickories, pines and cedars, dogwoods and redbuds reach up to block the sun, while warbler, wood thrush, and woodpecker share the shade. Chorus and bull frogs harmonize as the constellations blaze in the night sky and fireflies perform a luminous ballet. It’s a place where mosquitoes buzz and swarm anything with warm blood while turbid streams meander in sluggish fashion.
It’s here in one particular stream where one sees the most blatant risk taking and the most obvious evidence of neglect, perhaps arrogance, on the part of Exxon Mobil. Reminiscent of the Loch Ness phenomenon with it’s occasional “Nessie” appearance, there are places where Menard Creek meanders and the Pegasus pipeline comes up for air; in three spots. During a drought year, like 2011, these sections of the Pegasus would likely float in midair between the creek banks. Now, during a moderately wet spring, the pipe is clearly, if not completely, out of the water.
What effect does suspension of these segments have on the tensile strength of the steel in the aging pipes? What effect does the direct exposure to water and air on the pipe’s exterior have? What unseen corrosion continues inside these pipes from the transport of dilbit? What are the chances of external damage where trees (many in these spots that are taller than the distance between their bases and the pipeline) are more frequently uprooted by increasing numbers of hurricanes. What does this pipeline’s condition here in rural southeast Texas say about the efficacy of self-regulation by Exxon Mobil?
The myth of self-regulation, or even State- or PHMSA-regulation, is an open book with the Pegasus pipeline. The story here is one where other names could be substituted for the main characters, the settings slightly modified, but the epilogues very similar: 6B, Silvertip, Keystone, Line 67, Seaway, et cetera. The story’s end has yet to be determined. Will the risks of running diluted tar sands bitumen through unregulated, re-purposed pipelines continue to be allowed, or are there alternatives? Is tighter regulation in the National, if not public, interest? Is a moratorium on the transport of diluted tar sands bitumen called for? Is it time to demand, “No more tar sands!”?
These are but a few of the questions that come to mind when faced with the risk taking and neglect evidenced by the state of this pipeline. It is highly unlikely that this small segment of the Pegasus pipeline in Texas is the only spot where its condition, or that of other pipelines, is questionable, particularly in light of the ongoing disaster in Arkansas. If changes are not made with respect to:
- how state and federal agencies can perform their public duties when their staffs are peopled by future & former industry employees, or
- how CEOs can hide from their civic reponsibilities & consciences behind the “personhood” of their corporations, or
- how society at large can shrug off preventable situations such as these,
then unnecessary disaster is guaranteed as the sinister threat of toxic tar sands slurry continues. ”
Photo Credits: NacSTOP