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Exxon seeks to bar pipeline files

Aborted plan wasn’t Pegasus replacement, attorneys say by Debra Hale-Shelton | December 31, 2014 at 4:14 a.m.

Exxon Mobil said in a new court document that the proposed but abandoned Texas Access Pipeline would not have replaced the adjacent Pegasus pipeline, which ruptured in a Mayflower neighborhood last year.

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The Mayflower landowners who filed a class-action lawsuit against Exxon Mobil "appear to believe that the Texas Access Pipeline was intended as a replacement for the Pegasus pipeline. This is incorrect," attorneys for two of Exxon Mobil Corp.'s subsidiaries wrote in a brief filed in U.S. District Court.

Texas Access -- a roughly $3 billion project proposed in 2007 by Exxon Mobil and Enbridge Inc. -- "was never intended as a replacement for the Pegasus pipeline; instead, it was a proposed new pipeline to run alongside the Pegasus," the oil giant's attorneys wrote in response to the plaintiffs' demand for more information.

Marcus Bozeman, a Little Rock attorney for the landowners, countered Tuesday that "it's ridiculous to suggest that the Texas Access Pipeline was going to go side by side the Pegasus pipeline carrying the same oil from the same area to the same area."

"Exxon is saying that now because the thing blew up in the neighborhood," Bozeman said. "It's ridiculous. It's preposterous."

The proposed pipeline fell through after it didn't get enough shipping commitments from oil producers.

Bozeman has previously said the companies abandoned the plan for economic reasons and noted that Exxon Mobil increased the Pegasus pipeline's capacity by 50 percent in 2009.

The much-longer stretch of the Texas Access Pipeline would have had an estimated capacity of about 445,000 barrels of crude per day. That compares with the 66,000 barrels per day the Pegasus was transporting in 2008 and about 96,000 barrels per day in 2009.

Like the Pegasus, the Texas Access Pipeline would have carried Canadian crude from Patoka, Ill., to the Texas Gulf Coast. The new line, which originally would have opened in 2011, also would have had an 88-mile segment connecting it to Houston.

Attorneys for subsidiaries Mobil Pipe Line Co. and Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. argued in their court brief, filed Monday, that they should not have to release any further information on the Texas Access Pipeline.

"That the defendants once considered building a new pipeline next to the Pegasus reveals nothing about the current condition of the Pegasus," the attorneys wrote. "Thus, the Texas Access Pipeline has no relevance to plaintiffs' claims in this case."

Bozeman said he believes "one reason" Exxon Mobil doesn't want to release that information is that it doesn't want to disclose information about replacing the Pegasus pipeline. He and other attorneys for the landowners still intend to prove that point when the case goes to trial in August.

The 850-mile Pegasus, built in 1947-48, split open in Mayflower's Northwoods subdivision on March 29, 2013, and spilled an estimated 210,000 gallons of heavy crude into the neighborhood, drainage ditches and a cove of Lake Conway.

Questions about the condition and the maintenance of the Pegasus have lingered since the accident, blamed on manufacturing defects -- specifically, seam cracks that worsened over the years. The industry has known for decades that the kind of pipe used in the Pegasus was susceptible to such cracks. That type of pipe no longer is made.

A federal regulatory agency has proposed fining Exxon Mobil more than $2.6 million for nine "probable" safety violations as a result of the accident. The company has appealed.

Exxon Mobil shut down the line shortly after the Mayflower accident and has restarted only a small segment in Texas.

In August, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller ruled that Arnez and Charletha Harper of Mayflower could legally represent people who currently own property that is subject to an easement for the Pegasus and that is physically crossed by the line.

The lawsuit seeks either cancellation of the easements and removal of the pipeline from the owners' property or a requirement that Exxon Mobil replace the line.

In its brief this week, Exxon Mobil argued that the lawsuit's "claims depend on the current condition of the Pegasus pipeline," not the condition long ago.

The brief also said Exxon Mobil has already employed more than 60 attorneys to review electronically stored information and, as a result, has turned over more than 200,000 documents, consisting of more than 800,000 pages, to the plaintiffs since January.

Company attorneys complained that the plaintiffs now want the process started over with a software program called "predictive coding -- a type of computer-assisted review -- in [defendants'] production of electronically stored information."

Bozeman said six attorneys -- four in Little Rock and two in New York -- represent the plaintiffs. A jury trial has been set for sometime during the week of Aug. 10.

A section on 12/31/2014

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