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Spill Stokes Fears At Cushing Oil Hub

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[File photo] [File photo]
CUSHING, Oklahoma -

While crews in Cushing continue to clean up oil after a pipeline break early Monday morning, the spill is stoking fears about what may be to come for the nation’s oil hub.

The Seaway Pipeline is one of the largest in the nation, running 500 miles from Cushing to refineries in Freeport, Texas.

Because it's two pipelines, the owning company Enterprise could shut down one and keep oil flowing, but only 450,000 barrels per day. The section of pipe that burst can carry 50,000 barrels of oil or roughly 2.75 million gallons.

When asked for a comment, an Enterprise spokesperson pointed to the company's website where News 9 found the most recent statement dated Monday, October 24. 

"The actual amount of crude oil released will be significantly less and won't be determined until recovery efforts are complete," the statement read in part.

While there's no official cause of the break yet emergency officials said the line was simply old. 

“Old pipeline that ruptured, it just happens sometimes,” Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Wendi Marcy said on Tuesday. “There's no public safety problem right now. the air quality is being monitored 24/7 and there's no run off into any bodies of water or anything of concern.”

But environmental groups are pointing to an increase in strong earthquakes and an aging pipeline system, problems they say have been neglected for years.

“We can't continue to ignore this problem. The earthquakes are only going to get stronger and i really suspect the pipeline rupture is the result of continued accumulated damage from the spate of earthquakes we've been having up there and now the chickens are coming home to roost,” Casey Holcomb said.

Holcomb chairs the Red Earth group of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club. The club is currently involved in several lawsuits surrounding the state’s oil and gas industry, including one dealing with the 

Cushing was recently deemed "critical infrastructure" by the Department of Homeland Security. 

DHS describes critical infrastructure as “the water we drink, the transportation that moves us, the stores we shop in, and the communication systems we rely on to stay in touch with friends and family.”

A distinction which makes a threat to Cushing a threat to national security, but officials maintain the town of Cushing is safe.

“It would have to be significant to compromise one of the tanks and then the lines, those are, I mean that's always an issue but it's an issue with residential lines as well,” Marcy said.

Tanks are built with certain flexibility and are surrounded by dirt berms which Marcy said does provide some protection from earthquakes. The tanks are also required by federal law to be drained and inspected every 10 years.

Enterprise has hired a private company to clean up the spill, according to Marcy. Because pipeline is an interstate line, the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration is overseeing clean up.

The spill comes amid high tensions between environmentalists, Native American nations and energy companies. In Oklahoma, several tribes and groups are fighting the construction of a pipeline through Norman. 

Those protests also coincide with protests in North Dakota in which activists and tribe members have clashed with police and private security after shutting down the construction of a pipeline which would run to Illinois 

According to Reuters, news of the spill caused a $0.69 split in front month and second month crude futures. The futures are often affected by the supply and demand balance in Cushing.

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