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A dead American Coot covered in oil lies among leaves near the Bell Slough Wildlife Management Area near Mayflower, AK, on April 2. (Photo: Courtney Dunn / Greenpeace)

Gov't Sues Exxon For 'Disrupting Lives and Damaging Environment'

State and Federal offices are going after the Oil Giant for gross violations and damage following Pegasus pipeline rupture

Lauren McCauley

The Department of Justice and the state of Arkansas are suing Exxon Mobil over the March 29 rupture of the company's Pegasus pipeline which spilled thousands of barrels of crude tar sands oil over the town of Mayflower, Ark.

The government offices are seeking civil penalties from the Oil Giant for violations of state waste and pollution laws.

As a statement by the Environmental Protection Agency explains:

The complaint alleges six causes of action against the defendants. The U.S., on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeks civil penalties and injunctive relief under the federal Clean Water Act for the oil spill. The state of Arkansas, on behalf of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality by the authority of the Arkansas Attorney General, seeks civil penalties for violations of the Arkansas Hazardous Waste Management Act and the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act. The state also seeks a declaratory judgment on ExxonMobil’s liability for payment of removal costs and damages related to the spill pursuant to the federal Oil Pollution Act.

The impact of the spill have been ongoing and widespread. Following the rupture, the oil poured into a residential neighborhood before making its way into nearby waterways, including a creek, wetlands and Lake Conway, an important source of water and recreation for the area.

Some residents of Mayflower and the surrounding area were forced to evacuate their homes while others suffered from headaches, dizziness, trouble breathing and other health problems from the perpetual presence of "toxic benzene" in the air surrounding the spill.

Glen Hooks, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club in Arkansas, described one neighborhood where none of the 22 evacuated families have been able to return as a "sea of 'For Sale' signs."

"This spill disrupted lives and damaged our environment," said Arkansas Atty. Gen. Dustin McDaniel. "It sullied our previously pristine water and our clean air. As the party responsible for this incident, Exxon is also responsible for the penalties imposed by the state for the damage to our environment, and the company should foot the bill for the state's cleanup costs."

According to the Los Angeles Times,

if the court rules against ExxonMobil, it would be liable under the Clean Water Act for $1,100 for each barrel spilled, or more than $4,300 per barrel if the court determines that the spill occurred due to gross negligence or misconduct.

The spill released an estimated 5,000 barrels into Mayflower. Under Arkansas law, the company could be charged an additional $10,000 per violation per day for every day that oil is in the environment, according to the complaint.

And Reuters adds:

Federal pipeline regulators this month gave Exxon time to conduct a second round of testing on Pegasus after the company said an initial investigation into why the nearly 70-year-old line failed was inconclusive. [...]

Exxon installed a new section of the pipeline in April after it removed a 52-foot-long (15.8 meter) damaged section, but it has yet to file a restart plan with federal regulators.

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