PHMSA proposes ExxonMobil pay $1.7 million fine for pipeline leak

The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. (EMP) pay a $1.7 million fine because of a July 2011 failure of its Silvertip crude oil pipeline across the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Mont.

Based on its investigation of the incident, which released 1,509 bbl of crude from the 12-in., 69-mile pipeline from Elk basin, Wyo., to ExxonMobil’s Billings, Mont., refinery, PHMSA alleged that the ExxonMobil Corp. subsidiary did not adequately address known risks heavily flowing rivers and streams posed to its pipeline network.

In its notice of probable violation, PHMSA said EMP should have considered impacts from excessive river scour and erosion, and implemented measures which would have mitigated a spill into a waterway.

It also alleged that EMP did not establish written procedures for its staff to promptly and effectively act to protect the Silvertip pipeline from floods and other natural disasters, and to minimize the volume of oil released from any section of the pipeline.

In addition to the proposed fine, PHMSA issued a proposed compliance order, directing EMP to implement ongoing training for supervisory and control room personnel on emergency response procedures, including reacting to abnormal conditions involving the natural environment surrounding their pipelines and the proper operation of remote control valves.

Immediately after the pipeline’s failure, PHMSA issued EMP a corrective action order requiring the operator to take measures to ensure the pipeline, which had been shut down, could be safely restarted.

These included replacing and reburying the pipeline beneath the Yellowstone River, evaluating the pipeline for any existing or potential damage in all areas where it intersected with waterways, and revising its operation and emergency response procedures.

EMP completed all of the CAO’s required actions by August 2012, PHMSA said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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