Press Release

Jun 14, 2013

Markey: Did Exxon Use Unapproved Response Plan in Arkansas Spill?

Issues: BP Oil Spill, Oil

Contact: Eben Burnham-Snyder, Rep. Ed Markey, 202-225-2836

Unapproved Plan Increases Response Time for Worst Case Spills by 50 Percent; Revelation Comes as Exxon Sued by State of Arkansas, Justice Department

WASHINGTON (June 14, 2013) – ExxonMobil was using a response plan that allowed for increased time to detect and respond to accidents during their pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas in March. The only problem? That response plan had not yet been approved by the agency overseeing pipeline safety, and was only submitted two weeks before the spill that has displaced residents and sullied a neighborhood.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, revealed this fact today in letters to Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson and to the head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, after corresponding with the agency and the company regarding Exxon’s response plans.

Exxon had apparently been operating under a response plan received by PHMSA on March 14, 2013, two weeks before the spill, which increases the total estimated response time to 18 minutes to detect a rupture and shut down the Pegasus pipeline under a “Worst Case Discharge” scenario. That plan has not yet been approved, however, and the 2009 version on the books has a time of 12 minutes as its worst case scenario response. It took Exxon at least 16 minutes to detect the rupture in Arkansas and shut it down. A difference in just a few minutes could mean thousands of additional barrels of oil spilled during a pipeline rupture.

“We saw during the BP oil spill that oil companies did not have response plans to match the severity of an accident. It appears that Exxon may have been operating off an unapproved plan that increases response time to an accident, calling into question how seriously they have addressed safety and response with this tar sands pipeline,” said Rep. Markey.

In Exxon's May 28, 2013 letter to Rep. Markey, after Markey quizzed them on response efforts, the oil company states that, “The June 2009 Emergency Response Plan…is not the current version…The February 2013 – Revision 12 Emergency Response Plan is the current version of the plan. That plan provides a Worst Case Discharge estimated maximum detection time of…18 minutes to detect and shut down the segment.”

Yet PHMSA, in a letter to Rep. Markey, said that the 2013 plan is not approved and the 2009 plan is still the operative plan.

These new facts about Exxon using unapproved response plans come as the State of Arkansas and the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit yesterday against Exxon for damages from the spill and for illegally storing waste resulting from the spill.

Links to all of the letters exchanged between Rep. Markey, PHMSA, and Exxon can be found HERE.