Arkansas Oil Pipeline Spill: A Warm-Up for Keystone XL?

The NewsHour's Judy Woodruff asks pointed questions to Anthony Swift, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Andy Black, president of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, about the latest spill involving oil sands crude. The two agree on little.

2 minute read

April 6, 2013, 1:00 PM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

The 65-year-old Pegassus pipeline, owned and operated by Exxon-Mobil oil and gas company and running from Illinois to Texas, ruptured on March 29 in suburban Mayflower, Arkansas, outside of Little Rock, sending "between 3,500 and 5,000 barrels of a type of heavy crude called diluted bitumen from the tar sands of Western Canada" into the streets of this small city. Seven years ago it reversed it's oil flow direction so as to send Canadian oil to Gulf refineries, and switched to bitumen from thinner crude.

While "the Pegasus pipeline is capable of transporting 96,000 barrels of oil a day...the proposed Keystone XL pipeline extension...would carry 800,000 barrels a day of diluted bitumen crude over 1,700 miles, from the tar sands of Western Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas", states Woodruff in the introduction to this NewsHour panel discussion.

Is this calamity in Mayflower a precursor on a small scale for what we might expect with Keystone XL?

It didn't take long to for the two panelists to stake out opposing positions on most aspects of the spill.

ANTHONY SWIFT: (W)e have found that with tar sands spills, these are spills that are more difficult to clean. A similar spill in Kalamazoo, Mich., became the most expensive onshore pipeline spill in history, much because of the unique behavior of tar sands when it spills.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what are you saying, that there's something particularly complicated about this kind of oil?

ANTHONY SWIFT: That's exactly right... It's basically a mixture of very thick bitumen, which is solid at room temperature, and volatile petrochemicals that are very toxic once they reach the air...

ANDREW BLACK: It's no more complicated, Judy (to be sending this kind of bitumen crude across the country).  And the Department of State (re., their recent report on the pipeline) found that there are no more corrosive elements of crude from Western Canada as there are from California, Venezuela, Mexico. Crude has been safely moved for decades.

ANTHONY SWIFT: Well, it's simply not true.....

And so the dialog went - cordial but clearly taking opposing sides on the safety of pipelines and movement of bitumen crude as each explained their position in great detail. Woodruff summed it up perfectly when she stated, "It sounds like what the two of you are saying doesn't reconcile."

The eleven minute video of the panel discussion appears above the text.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 in PBS NewsHour

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