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AG rebuts pipeline oversight suggestion

Utility wants role in suit settlement by Debra Hale-Shelton | July 22, 2015 at 3:30 a.m.

The Arkansas attorney general's office told a federal judge Tuesday that it opposes Central Arkansas Water's suggestion that the utility oversee a proposed consent decree between Exxon Mobil and the state and federal governments.

"[Central Arkansas Water] requests that it be granted third-party enforcement status of the Consent Decree but fails to cite any authority for third-party enforcement status," Assistant Attorney General Jamie Ewing wrote in a letter to Judge Kristine Baker, who is presiding over a government lawsuit against two Exxon Mobil Corp. subsidiaries in U.S. District Court.

In April, the state and federal governments submitted a proposed consent decree, or settlement, of that lawsuit to the court. The agreement, which is subject to Baker's approval, would require Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. and Mobil Pipe Line Co. to pay $1,880,000 in penalties to the state and $3,190,000 to the United States as a result of an oil spill in Mayflower in 2013.

The Pegasus pipeline, built in 1947-48, cracked open March 29, 2013, and spilled tens of thousands of gallons of heavy crude oil into the Northwoods subdivision, drainage ditches and a cove of Lake Conway.

In the letter Tuesday, Ewing wrote, "The Arkansas General Assembly has not granted the right of third-party enforcement under" statutes that allow the state to seek $1,880,000 million in financial penalties from the companies as a result of an oil spill in Mayflower on March 29, 2013.

As a result, Ewing wrote, "[Central Arkansas Water's] requested remedy is not available under the law."

"Statutory authority for enforcement of those statutes lies solely with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality ... and the Arkansas Attorney General," she said.

The state penalties would be in addition to $3.19 million in federal fines proposed under the Clean Water Act and to other provisions, including one that Exxon Mobil treat the northern, roughly 650-mile section of the Pegasus pipeline as susceptible to longitudinal seam failure and subject to more stringent regulations.

Central Arkansas Water oversees Lake Maumelle, which provides drinking water to more than 400,000 people. About 13.5 miles of the underground pipeline runs through the lake's watershed.

In a letter last week, Central Arkansas Water urged Baker to reject the proposed consent decree or at least delay action on it pending a related matter.

The utility also suggested that it and 10 other Arkansas utilities or governmental entities be allowed to monitor the oil companies' compliance with the consent decree. That monitoring would be in addition to oversight by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, often called PHMSA.

"Namely, [Central Arkansas Water] and the 10 other governmental entities supporting our [comments] are focused on the Pegasus pipeline in Arkansas rather than every mile of over 2,500,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines throughout the entire United States," said the utility's letter, written by spokesman John Tynan.

Providing these more local agencies "the jurisdiction to ensure the long-term integrity of Pegasus pipeline within Arkansas ... is fair, reasonable, and in the public interest," Tynan wrote.

In a previous filing with the Justice Department, Central Arkansas Water and the other entities said they "have little or no confidence in the ability of PHMSA to independently and thoroughly enforce the requirements of [its own] Corrective Action Order or the remedial work plan" for the Pegasus pipeline.

In November 2013, the safety administration proposed fining Exxon Mobil $2,659,200 and notified it of nine "probable" violations of safety regulations. Exxon Mobil has appealed the findings.

The letter from the attorney general's office said it supports approval of the proposed consent decree.

The state "believes that all parties participated fully and fairly in the litigation," it said. "The settlement negotiations were undertaken in good faith and resulted in a reasonable remedy that adequately addressed the violations alleged in the complaint."

State Desk on 07/22/2015

Print Headline: AG rebuts pipeline oversight suggestion


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