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U.S., Arkansas file joint complaint against Exxon Mobil

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was originally published June 13, 2013 at 11:00 a.m. Updated June 13, 2013 at 12:27 p.m.

attorney-general-dustin-mcdaniel-speaks-at-a-news-conference-thursday-beside-us-attorney-for-the-eastern-district-of-arkansas-chris-thyer

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel speaks at a news conference Thursday beside U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Chris Thyer.

U.S., Arkansas file suit against Exxon Mobil

A joint lawsuit from the state of Arkansas and the U.S. government was filed Thursday against Exxon Mobil over a ruptured pipeline that spilled thousands of gallons of oil in Mayflower. (By Gavin Lesnick)
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The state of Arkansas and the United States have filed a joint complaint against Exxon Mobil over a burst pipeline that spilled thousands of barrels of oil into a Mayflower neighborhood, displacing residents from 22 homes and raising environmental concerns, officials announced Thursday.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said at a news conference that the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court (PDF).

"The oil spill disrupted lives," McDaniel said. "This oil spill harmed the environment. And this oil spill was in violation of both state and federal law."

McDaniel spoke at the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's North Little Rock headquarters, joining that agency's director, Teresa Marks, and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Chris Thyer for the formal announcement of the complaint.

The complaint seeks civil penalties for violations of the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act and the state Hazardous Waste Management Act. It also alleges that Exxon illegally stored waste from the cleanup at a site on Arkansas 36 in Conway.

McDaniel said he would not "speculate" on the total amount of penalties sought in the lawsuit because the investigation is continuing and the figure could change.

State law provides for penalties of $10,000 per violation per day for the Water and Air Pollution Control Act and $25,000 per violation per day for violations of the Hazardous Waste Management Act. The federal Clean Water Act also allows penalties between $1,100 and $4,300 per spilled barrel.

The higher penalty would be allowed if gross negligence or willful misconduct is proven. An ongoing investigation will reveal whether those standards are met, Thyer said.

"We don't have those facts yet," he said. "We don't know those facts."

McDaniel said the illegal storage in Conway included contaminated soil, oil and water mixtures and debris. And he said the company failed to move the complete operation even after being told last month an ADEQ permit they didn't have was required.

"To store this material without following the law in advance and then to not remove it upon being demanded to do so, we felt was particularly concerning," McDaniel said.

The Pegasus pipeline ruptured March 29 in the Northwoods subdivision, seeping an estimated 147,000 gallons of crude oil into the neighborhood. The oil spread through the streets and into drainage ditches, eventually reaching a cove of Lake Conway about a mile away.

A joint cleanup effort followed with representatives from the oil giant, Faulkner County, the state and the federal government working to sop up the spilled oil and attend to affected wildlife in the area. Officials have said the oil was prevented from ever reaching the main body of water in Lake Conway.

McDaniel said Thursday the spill has had a "significant and lasting negative impact on our state's environment."

"And Exxon, as the responsible party for the incident, should be penalized for those impacts," he said.

Cleanup efforts have been ongoing in Mayflower, and some residents evacuated from their home were cleared several weeks ago to return. But as of Thursday, none had opted to do so. Exxon Mobil has said it will purchase the homes at pre-spill appraisal prices. Several lawsuits have already been filed.

The cause of the spill has not been determined, McDaniel and Thyer said at the media briefing. Exxon Mobil recently received an extension until July 10 to provide to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration the results of mechanical and metallurgical testing on the portion of the pipeline that cracked. That analysis is expected to reveal the cause.

See Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more on this story.

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drs01 says... June 13, 2013 at 11:38 a.m.

Don't forget about the developer-realtor(s) who sold the property. I doubt if any of them did a full disclosure about the pipeline. They share some legal responsibility...or public shame

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TheBatt says... June 13, 2013 at 11:40 a.m.

McDaniel is an attention hog who cannot stand to stay out of the limelight...

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barcoder says... June 13, 2013 at 11:40 a.m.

Why can't our AG just work this out with Exon and save everyone time and money?

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llllllll says... June 13, 2013 at 11:52 a.m.

In an imperfect world why is it that no one believes in accidents anymore and that someone is to blame for everything. I'm sure if I was one of those affected I would be a little angry to say the least but this is beginning to look like a money grab since all involved know one thing...that Exxon/Mobile has the money, has basically been demonized by society and no one will care even if an injustice is done since they are the bad guys now.
Hey, I don't like Exxon either. When the economy went to pot their credit card interest went from 8% to 25% overnight. Of forgive me it was really just 24.99%. My mistake.The poor little girl I talked to said " it's the economy that make us do this" Well, I was living in the same "economy" they were but they could have cared less. No matter how much the economy improves does anyone think the interest will ever go back down. Sure it will about the next time it snows in hell. After re-living that moment I'm about to change my mind about the first paragraph above.

McDaniel needed to redeem himself some way and I bet he thanks his lucky stars every day that Exxon/Mobile came to his rescue just in the nick of time. Go get'em , and don't do anything inappropriate. Feeling better now.

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outinthesticks says... June 13, 2013 at 11:55 a.m.

There is a smell in the air, and it ain't crude oil. It's the smell of easy money and political clout. bar, there is nothing to be gained politically by "working this out", that's way too much like what a business would do. No sir, nothing helps the political future like winning a lawsuit for voters and putting something in the state coffers to boot.

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Coralie says... June 13, 2013 at 4:10 p.m.

Didn't you know, big corporations can do no wrong?

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Fdworfe says... June 13, 2013 at 4:22 p.m.

Even if you are the State of Arkansas in combination with the US Federal Government, it takes intestinal fortitude or reckless resolve to engage Exxon Mobil in the courts. In addition to having virtually unlimited, blatantly obscene profits to retain an army of the best legal talent available, that company is of all oil companies probably the most hardnosed, ruthless and intractable corporate entity on Planet Earth except maybe for Shell who would run a close second. Between the oil companies and insurance companies, it's a tossup as to which owns Texas, but there’s little question that they pretty much run the state. It’s probably safe these days though to give the NRA credit for coming along quite well in that scheme of things. Anyway, We The People versus Exxon Mobil should be one heckuva fight. The politics alone will be worth watching.

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RBBrittain says... June 13, 2013 at 4:32 p.m.

First, this lawsuit, filed at EPA's & ADEQ's request (read the complaint -- the Federal signatures were both from DC, with an EPA attorney listed as "of counsel"; Thyer's just following orders), was inevitable from the instant Pegasus burst open; the lawyers had to get all their facts straight befote filing.
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Second, a pipeline bursting in a residential neighborhood may well have been an accident (though the neighborhood probably shouldn't have been built the way it was); but creating an illegal dump in Conway to dispose of the waste was NO accident. That, in particular, demanded a serious response from both EPA & ADEQ, who each must kick the lawsuits upstairs to their respective AGs.

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RBBrittain says... June 13, 2013 at 4:53 p.m.

@barcoder: EPA and ADEQ had to file the suit to get ExxonMobil's attention so they can even START negotiations; we all know ExxonMobil has "lawyered up" already. A settlement is still a DISTINCT possibility here; ExxonMobil's lawyers would certainly prefer a settlement over a messy trial (with OR without jury) a few years from now in the LR Federal courthouse.
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Since this is a civil case and both ExxonMobil entities sued are based out-of-state (a constitutional requirement for Federal-court jurisdiction over suits based on state law), this joint Federal-state suit actually means one LESS trial; if McDaniel had gone it alone he probably would have a state trial, most likely in Conway. (I'm sure the Faulkner County courthouse will be more than busy enough with the private lawsuits.)

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LR1955 says... June 13, 2013 at 5:58 p.m.

I use to fish in that cove and have driven by it many times on my way to the G & F shooting range. This spill has hurt my recreational lifestyle so count me in on a cut of the penalities.

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