Communications from Exxon company officials close to the Pegasus Pipeline rupture that resulted in a large crude oil spill in residential Mayflower’s Northwoods subdivision have typically been through media release, city and county officials, and the Mayflower Incident Unified Command.
Three months after the initial spill response, ExxonMobil Pipeline executive Karen Tyrone answered questions posed by the Log Cabin Democrat on the company’s role in the spill and its work to recover the community of Mayflower, including the status of Northwoods residences showing signs of oil beneath their foundations. Tyrone, the company’s vice president and operations manager, returned to the area Wednesday to review cleanup work and to meet with government officials on the subject of the spill, she said. While some areas of Mayflower are in what Tyrone calls "remediation," the actual neighborhood where the pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of oil is still in the "recovery" phase. Tyrone explains remediation means there is no free standing oil left to clean. Recovery is ongoing in the Northwoods neighborhood, she said, because some residences haven’t been cleared for reentry. Tyrone said a couple of the 22 families evacuated have returned home, and many are in the first steps of the process of selling their homes to Exxon.
Log Cabin Democrat: Where is Exxon in their part of handling the spill?
Karen Tyrone: We’re into the phase that is past free oil cleanup. As a unified command we’ve moved from response to remediation in the cove and the drainage channels that lead through Northwoods and into the cove. That’s officially in remediation. And for the (Northwoods) neighborhood we’re in response mode and under the unified command process because we still have some people out of their homes and impacted homes requiring further remediation and decisions to be made.
LCD: What are the plans for the pipeline that ruptured? Will you move or repair it?
KT: The site that was the source of the release has been repaired and we’ve excavated and replaced it with a new piece of pipe. The piece that was removed was sent to Hurst, Tex. for metallurgical evaluation, and until we get those results back we won’t know what the final restart plan would be. We won’t restart it until it’s safe to do so and PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) says it’s O.K. to do so.
LCD: Is there a retirement age for this pipeline?
KT: There is not a retirement age. Age alone does not determine the integrity of a pipeline.
Tyrone said the company has a piece of inspection equipment, sometimes referred to as a smart pig, that ran through the rupture site in February.
The smart pig devise goes inside the pipe and can do a lot of things. It can clean the pipe for you, help you change products if needed, but it can also be a sophisticated electronic device to collect a lot of data in the pipelines. The smart pigs can be in-line inspection tools…to detect if the life of the pipeline is in jeopardy…if it is starting to have a problem…or if there is something you need to address.
LCD: When was the last time that kind of inspection process occurred at the site where the pipeline ruptured?
KT: In the first quarter of this year, specifically in February. Those results are not available yet. I know it’s hard to understand and I’m sympathetic to that, but these tools generate a significant amount of data that has to be run through programs and computer analysis with tools that tell us where to go to evaluate the tool run. Since that run we’ve gotten a report back to do what we call validation digs…We are doing validation digs on that tool run.
ExxonMobil Pipeline Company is in its third extension to provide the report on the cause of the pipeline break to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The original due date was May 17, and the deadline is now July 10.
LCD: Is there still oil in the Northwoods subdivision?
KT: I would say there is a very limited amount of drops under the foundations of some homes. The most impacted homes still have remediation work to be done. Those homeowners have not yet been allowed to return. We’re working as fast as we can and working with them to get them home as fast as we can. The good news is the majority of the homes have been approved for reentry. Fifteen homeowners have been through the process.
About the oil, someone went and saw a small amount. But in the yards and in areas there’s no free oil. But what we’ve done is excavate around the foundation to watch and test. We’ve taken samples under and beside the homes and we’re watching to see what happens there as well as taking scientific sample analysis…That’s the only place you’d see oil.
LCD: Do you know of any evacuated residents who have returned home?
KT: We have a couple who have returned home.
LCD: Is the process of returning residents to their homes or Exxon buying residences stalled by current or pending litigation?
KT: No. We’re still working with the state and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to excavate and sample to see where we are. Unfortunately, it takes time and we’re taking time to do things right.
Tyrone said something as simple as taking a soil sample is a lengthy and time consuming process, with custody transfers and shipping. State and federal agencies, along with private plaintiffs have opened suits against ExxonMobil since the spill, but Tyrone said these cases should not slow recovery and remediation processes.
I would not say litigation is standing in our way.
LCD: Will homes showing signs of oil underneath be destroyed so you can excavate? We’ve heard officials say this is the likely option.
KT: That’s not necessarily true. There are methods to do and that have been done. ADEQ (Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality) has talked to us about some methods. The considerations will be how long does it take those things, and does the homeowner want to return to that area. There are options. We need to consider all of those and work with the homeowners to meet their needs. We will certainly meet requirements of the state for the remediation process.
Tyrone said she has heard it said that recovery workers are "looking for a teaspoon, any sign of oil," but that there’s not continuous oil coming up from the ground.
LCD: Do you expect there is a large amount of oil underground?
KT: No, in fact, where you excavate you can see clean soil and you might find a dribble of oil at some time, but there’s no pooled oil under these homes that we know of. There’s no large amount of oil left out there, anywhere.
LCD: What is the potential solution for homeowners in Northwoods?
KT: Many residents have signed up for the appraisal process (for Exxon to buy their homes). In mid-April we announced a property purchase and protection plan. It took us a while to get the details of that out there. This still leaves homeowners the option when they get the appraisal and offer from Exxon, to not take it…It’s a voluntary process.
LCD: Have you purchased any homes yet from residents?
KT: We’ve offered to purchase all 22 evacuated homes, which includes the directly impacted homes. The very few that were directly impact, we’ve offered to purchase those promptly. In fact, we’ve offered to buy all the homes in the neighborhood. If you weren’t evacuated, we’re asking that the homeowners market their homes for a few months prior to us purchasing it…We’re in the (appraisal and purchase process). Many have signed up for the appraisals.
LCD: If you do purchase several homes, who would ultimately own the land and the homes?
KT: It would be our intent to resell. We have a real estate group within ExxonMobil who have been working with us since late April. They are experts in real estate, because we do not want to devalue the beautiful neighborhood of Northwoods. It is a lovely place to live. Many people intend to stay there. We’d be doing them a disservice if we dumped a bunch of homes on the market. We will not do that.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)