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Exxon Mobil operates more than 1,000 miles of pipeline that is in similar condition to the aging crude-oil line that ruptured and spilled thousands of gallons of oil into a Mayflower neighborhood more than two years ago, attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday.

The attorneys commented in a document urging the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to deny Exxon Mobil's request that the court stay, or delay, a federal agency's order that the company comply with several safety directives as a result of the March 29, 2013, accident in Mayflower.

Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp., contends it is being singled out with "extensive and costly" directives that do not apply to its competitors, and wants those directives put on hold while the court decides whether to uphold the compliance order.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Transportation Department, issued the order in November 2013 and upheld it in April. Exxon Mobil has paid the $2,630,400 fine.

[DOCUMENT: Read the government's response]

In Tuesday's court filing, government attorneys said Exxon Mobil "operates over a thousand miles of pipeline similar in type and condition to the Pegasus pipeline, and also subject to the pipeline safety regulations."

"The compliance order will ensure that [Exxon Mobil] has the necessary procedures in place to appropriately assess future risks of seam failure along these pipelines," the attorneys wrote.

Exxon Mobil argues "that compliance will put it 'at a competitive disadvantage as compared to other pipeline operators' ... but that presumes that other pipeline operators have not already undertaken the minimum actions necessary to comply with the applicable regulations, which is what the compliance order directs [Exxon Mobil] to do," the government said.

A Texas laboratory hired by Exxon Mobil found that manufacturing defects, specifically cracks that likely were present from the time of manufacturing or shortly thereafter and that worsened over the years, caused the rupture. The industry has known for decades that such defects are common in pre-1970, electric-resistance welded pipe, the type used in the Pegasus. It no longer is made.

Justice Department attorneys said Exxon Mobil did not follow its own procedures when it assessed the safety of the Pegasus pipeline, built in 1947-48.

The company "did, in fact, consider whether the pipeline was susceptible to seam failure," the attorneys wrote. "[Exxon Mobil] simply discounted substantial evidence to erroneously conclude that the pipeline was not susceptible to seam failure ... a conclusion that conveniently relieved [Exxon Mobil] of certain regulatory requirements."

Government attorneys said the compliance order is intended "to prevent another, similar pipeline accident by requiring [Exxon Mobil] to alter its testing and inspection procedures to ensure proper determinations of potential seam problems before another potentially catastrophic incident."

"A stay of the order would undermine that significant safety concern," they wrote.

Among the compliance order's requirements is one calling for an inventory of the company's pre-1970 electric-resistance welded pipe. Exxon Mobil already has ­done that inventory and "indicated that it has over [1,000] miles of such pipe subject to the agency's pipeline safety regulations," the government said.

"The agency and the public, therefore, have a significant interest in ensuring that those pipelines are operating in compliance with federal safety standards," it said.

The 650-mile-long segment of the Pegasus pipeline, which runs from Illinois to Texas, has been shut down since shortly after the Mayflower spill. Only the remaining 211-mile stretch, which runs from Corsicana to Nederland, Texas, has resumed service.

The Pegasus cracked between two homes in Mayflower's Northwoods subdivision on Good Friday in 2013. Thick, heavy crude flowed through the neighborhood, into drainage ditches and finally a cove of Lake Conway.

Government attorneys said the accident caused more than $57 million in property damage. Twenty-two homes were evacuated on a long-term basis, and some residents never moved back to the neighborhood. Numerous residents sold their houses to Exxon Mobil, and the company demolished two of the houses.

State Desk on 08/03/2016

Print Headline: Court urged to hold Exxon to U.S. order


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