The Pegasus pipeline that ruptured and spilled thousands of gallons of tar sands crude in Mayflower was 65 years old, and was initially built to carry thinner oil at lower pressure in the opposite direction than today.
But seven years ago, when Exxon, the pipeline's operator, turned it into a higher-volume line for diluted bitumen from Canada flowing under greater pressure to refineries on the Gulf Coast, federal rules did not require a permit application or safety reviews, according to federal officials.
"Our regulations don't specify how much product a pipeline carries. There is no regulation if they want to change the type of crude they carry," said Damon Hill, a spokesman for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a part of the Transportation Department. "As far as reversing the flow of a pipeline, it is not a safety issue."
To reverse the line that runs from Patoka, Ill. to Nederland, Tex. required 240,000 man-hours of work on pump stations, valves, bypasses and integrity tests, Exxon said when it opened the line.
But only after the spill occurred did the agency step in with an order, issued Tuesday, that clamps down on the Pegasus pipeline, for example by limiting the pressure at which it may operate once it reopens.
MAYFLOWER, Ark.—A warehouse next to highway I-40 here at the edge of Mayflower, Ark., houses the command center for the ongoing cleanup of thousands of barrels of spilled Canadian heavy oil, but it is inaccessible to media.
Tightly controlled by ExxonMobil, which was responsible for the spill, access to even the parking lot is not permitted. A security guard now stops anyone without a red lanyard and ID badge from passing into the gated compound.
Thousands of barrels of oil from Alberta's tar sands region—similar to the crude that would flow through the controversial Keystone XL project—spilled into a suburban Arkansas neighborhood on Friday. A 70-year-old pipeline owned by Exxon that runs from Patoka, Ill. to Nederland, Texas ruptured and forced the evacuation of nearly two dozen homes.
The town of 2,000 people is now suddenly the focus of national attention in the divisive debate over whether President Obama should approve the Keystone XL, a $5 billion pipeline to ship Alberta's heavy crude to U.S. refineries along the Texas coast.
With momentum building for climate policy in Washington for the first time since 2010, environmentalists are going on the offensive to counter skeptics who helped derail global warming legislation in the past.
While their efforts do a good of identifying the formidable strength of organizations that reject the scientific consensus, it is too early to tell if their counter-weapons will have any effect in the climate wars.
The Climate Reality Project, a group overseen by Al Gore, is trying to win over public opinion by getting people to spread accurate global warming science in the comment sections of news stories online, where the battle rages with particular ferocity.
A petition filed with federal agencies last week by a coalition led by the National Wildlife Federation is demanding a moratorium on pending tar sands pipelines—including the Keystone XL—until regulators establish new rules to ensure their safety.
As if to illustrate the dangers outlined in the petition, Exxon's Pegasus pipeline that carries Canadian diluted bitumen, or dilbit, on Friday spilled in central Arkansas, releasing an estimated 84,000 gallons of the crude within about 45 minutes before the release was stopped, according to local sources.
Filed on behalf of 29 environmental and community groups and 36 individuals, the petition includes a list of nine policy recommendations for the safe transport of dilbit, a type of crude oil produced from Canada's oil sands region.
"Simply put, diluted bitumen and conventional crude oil are not the same substance," the petitioners wrote. "There is increasing evidence that the transport of diluted bitumen is putting America's public safety at risk. Current regulations fail to protect the public against those risks. Instead, regulations ... treat diluted bitumen and conventional crude the same."
The rules proposed by the petitioners cover pipeline safety, leak prevention and oil spill response, issues InsideClimate News has been covering closely in the wake of the million-gallon dilbit spill in Michigan's Kalamazoo River that occurred in July 2010.
A pipeline that ruptured and leaked at least 80,000 gallons of oil into central Arkansas on Friday was transporting a heavy form of crude from the Canadian tar sands region, ExxonMobil told InsideClimate News.
Local police said the line gushed oil for 45 minutes before being stopped, according to media reports.
Crude oil ran through a subdivision of Mayflower, Ark., about 20 miles north of Little Rock. Twenty-two homes were evacuated, but no one was hospitalized, Exxon spokesman Charlie Engelmann said on Saturday.
In an interview with InsideClimate News, Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson said emergency crews prevented the oil from entering waterways. The judge issued an emergency declaration following the spill and is involved in coordinating clean-up efforts among federal, state and local agencies and Exxon.
Drought conditions in more than half of the United States have slipped into a pattern that climatologists say is uncomfortably similar to the most severe droughts in recent U.S. history, including the 1930s Dust Bowl and the widespread 1950s drought.
The 2013 drought season is already off to a worse start than in 2012 or 2011—a trend that scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say is a good indicator, based on historical records, that the entire year will be drier than last year, even if spring and summer rainfall and temperatures remain the same. If rainfall decreases and temperatures rise, as climatologists are predicting will happen this year, the drought could be even more severe.
The federal researchers also say there is less than a 20 percent chance the drought will end in the next six months.
If all goes well, the next oil removal operation on Michigan's Kalamazoo River will mark the beginning of the end for the cleanup of the largest oil pipeline spill in U.S. history
The spill, which occurred in July 2010, already has cost pipeline operator Enbridge Inc. more than $820 million in cleanup expenses. That figure could top $1 billion by the time the latest operation is carried out.
The goal of the new effort is to dredge three areas of the river where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says oil is still accumulating. When the EPA first proposed the idea in October, Enbridge asked the agency to delay its decision until it conducted more scientific studies. But Enbridge agreed to comply after the EPA issued an order on March 14.
The EPA fears that if the oil isn't removed, it could continue to spread and contaminate parts of the river that are currently clean.
Surveys "show that submerged oil can now be detected throughout the 2 mile long, 700 acre expanse of [Morrow] lake," the EPA said in a letter that accompanied the order. "By contrast, only 189 acres showed submerged oil impact in Fall 2011. In Spring 2012, the area of impact had progressed to 325 acres."
WASHINGTON—When the State Department hired a contractor to produce the latest environmental impact statement for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, it asked for a Web-based electronic docket to record public comments as they flowed in each day. Thousands of comments are expected to be filed by people and businesses eager to influence the outcome of the intense international debate over the project.
But the public will not find it easy to examine these documents.
A summary of the comments will be included in the final version of the environmental impact statement when it is released, said Imani J. Esparza of the Office of Policy and Public Outreach in State's bureau of oceans, environment and science.
But the only way to see the comments themselves is by filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, a process that can take so long that the Keystone debate could be over before the documents are made available.
By 2050, New York State could run entirely on energy produced from wind, water and sunlight. That radical finding, which goes further than any other clean energy plan envisioned for New York, comes from a peer-reviewed study published last week in the journal Energy Policy.
The 13 scientists who wrote the report analyzed the technical and economic feasibility of meeting the state's energy needs solely through renewable energy. They concluded that moving to renewables would stabilize energy prices, decrease power demand through efficiency and reduce health impacts from air pollution.
Lead author Mark Z. Jacobson spent more than two years figuring out the details of the proposal, which includes wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal energy but no fossil fuels or nuclear power. Biofuels are used as a transitional power source and eventually phased out.
As part of its effort to persuade the United States to accept the Keystone pipeline and the oil sands fuel it would carry from Canada, the province of Alberta is advertising itself as an environmental leader at the cutting edge of clean energy development.
On Sunday, the province took out a half-page ad in the New York Times asserting that it is "committed to raising the bar higher on its leading climate change policy."
"Our past, present and future environmental management actions—including the fact that Alberta already has a price on carbon and was the first place in North America to legally require all large industry to curb emissions—are unmatched by any oil producing region in the world," Premier Alison Redford said in a companion statement.
"To ignore the good work done in Alberta to begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—while others around the world simply talk—is disingenuous in the extreme," she added in a speech the next day.
Alberta's talk about its actions to address the climate issue came as Redford prepares for a trip to Washington next month to lobby for the project—her fourth such visit in 18 months.
But the ad, which the opposition immediately said was misleading, was a lobbying tactic, not a diplomatic overture. Indeed, many experts see the long-running Keystone saga as a failure of diplomacy on all sides.