Central Arkansas Water said Friday that it may sue ExxonMobil and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration after stalled efforts to get safety information about the Pegasus Pipeline, an oil line that spilled thousands of gallons in Mayflower and runs through the Lake Maumelle Watershed.
The pipeline has not been restarted since the March 29 spill in Faulkner County, and officials haven't said when they will seek to open it again. Central Arkansas Water said the step of notifying ExxonMobil and the government agency that oversees pipelines of a possible suit is necessary so the utility has the option of later seeking an injunction to stop the pipeline from being restarted.
"As we have indicated throughout this process, CAW’s immediate goal is to prevent the restart of the pipeline until CAW has had the opportunity to review all relevant data and identify additional safety and integrity measures needed in the Maumelle Watershed," Central Arkansas Water CEO Graham Rich said in a letter to area leaders released with the formal notice of the possible suit. "... [W]e are in need of comprehensive, unredacted information regarding the pipeline and its integrity. However, despite our best efforts for complete public transparency, ExxonMobil claims that much of the information that we have requested is protected from disclosure due to security and/or competitive advantage concerns."
Rich said in the letter that efforts to obtain the information since early April resulted in a tentative agreement to abide by a confidentiality agreement that would prevent the utility from releasing the data. But, he said, Central Arkansas Water signed the paperwork in late August and hasn't received the agreement back from ExxonMobil.
"The continued lack of critical data requested by CAW has raised legitimate concerns regarding the potential of the Pegasus Pipeline restarting before CAW has sufficient time to review the necessary information and make informed decisions regarding the protection of the Maumelle Watershed," Rich wrote, noting that the two parties are still working on the issue and that a suit is not definitely forthcoming.
Lake Maumelle is the primary drinking water supply for more than 400,000 people in Central Arkansas.
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, one of the leaders who received the letter from Central Arkansas Water, said he supports the "extraordinary step" to get the oil giant to "address serious questions" about safety.
"As I have said throughout this ordeal, Arkansans deserve transparency and openness from ExxonMobil and I will continue to demand nothing less," Griffin said in a prepared statement.
For more on this story, see tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.