State, feds seek cash penalty over Arkansas oil spill
By CHUCK BARTELS Associated Press June 13, 2013 2:24PM
Updated: June 13, 2013 2:24PM
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — State and federal authorities want a judge to find ExxonMobil broke the law when a pipeline failed at Mayflower and spilled an estimated 150,000 gallons of crude oil in a neighborhood and adjacent waterway, authorities announced Thursday.
Christopher Thyer, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel jointly filed a federal lawsuit seeking $45,000 per day for violations since the March 29 spill plus other penalties.
An ExxonMobil spokesman said in an email that the company hadn’t been served the lawsuit and had no specific comment.
“That said, we will continue to cooperate with all federal, state and local agencies,” spokesman Aaron Stryk said.
Stryk said the company has recovered about 63,000 gallons of the spilled oil and the cleanup is continuing.
After the ExxonMobil Pipeline Co.’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured, 22 homes were evacuated and McDaniel said Thursday that those families still have not been able to return.
The company said sampling has shown that the spill was restricted to a cove within Lake Conway and that the oil did not reach the main body of the lake, a popular fishing spot.
McDaniel said there is no distinction between the cove and the lake, though he credited Arkansas Game and Fish Commission crews for quickly using heavy equipment to seal off the spill area before the mess could drift.
The lawsuit seeks penalties of $1,100 per barrel of spilled oil under the federal Clean Water Act. A barrel is equal to 31.5 gallons. That amount would grow to $4,300 per barrel if ExxonMobil is found to have engaged in “gross negligence or willful misconduct.”
Thyer stopped short of saying the company was negligent or willful in any misconduct.
“We don’t have those facts yet,” Thyer said.
The lawsuit accuses the company of violating the state Hazardous Waste Management Act, which carries a daily penalty of $25,000. It also seeks penalties for violating two separate sections of the state Water and Air Pollution Control Act, which each carry penalties of $10,000 per day.
Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Director Teresa Marks said the company has been storing waste illegally at a company that uses hydraulic fracturing to drill for natural gas.
Mayflower is about 25 miles northwest of Little Rock.