US agency proposes $1.7m fine for ExxonMobil pipe rupture, spill

26 March 2013 16:29  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--ExxonMobil said on Tuesday it will continue to work with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) on any follow-up actions after the federal agency proposed $1.7m (€1.3m) in civil penalties against the US oil giant for the July 2011 pipeline rupture and spill.

“We are disappointed in the findings of this report, which are contrary to the earlier report [DOT’s] Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued in December and would like to understand what changed,” said Rachael Moore with ExxonMobil’s downstream public and government affairs.

According to a PHMSA letter sent on Monday to the company, severe flooding caused erosion and scouring of the Yellowstone River, exposing the crude oil pipeline. Debris gradually increased external stress on the exposed pipeline, causing a “guillotine break” on 1 July 2011, which resulted in over 1,500 bbl of oil spilled.

PHMSA alleged that ExxonMobil failed to properly address known seasonal flooding risks to the safety of its pipeline system and to implement measures that would have mitigated a spill.

The agency also said ExxonMobil failed to establish written response procedures for personnel to protect the pipeline from natural disasters and minimise the volume of oil released.

“It is our priority to ensure that America's transportation system is the safest in the world,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “This system includes the nation’s 2.6m miles [4.2m km] of pipelines, and it is our responsibility to see that those who operate them are held accountable for adhering to federal safety standards.”

PHMSA is proposing the fine, as well as an order for ExxonMobil to implement ongoing training for employees on emergency response procedures.

“We committed to learn from the incident and have since applied the learning to our remote control valve procedures and operator training as recommended by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration,” Moore said.

“We will review the PHMSA letter in greater detail and will continue to work with PHMSA on any follow-up actions,” she added.

($1 = €0.78)

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By: Tracy Dang
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