On Anniversary, Panel Discusses Mayflower Oil Spill Effects

Mar 31, 2014

(Left to right) Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson, Congressman Tim Griffin, Tammie Hynum with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Graham Rich, CEO of Central Arkansas Water.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

On the one year anniversary of the Mayflower Oil Spill, those involved in the response came together to discuss how the pipeline rupture was handled, lessons learned and whether it should ever be allowed to reopen. The discussion was held at the Clinton School of Public Service.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel eventually filed a lawsuit, along with the federal government, seeking punitive damages.

"Here you saw people fleeing their homes with a river of oil through a neighborhood and one of the most common themes at the time were people saying, 'I had no idea there was a pipeline anywhere near my home," McDaniel said.

More than 200,000 gallons of raw crude was spilled. The Pegasus Pipeline has since remained shut down in the area.

ExxonMobil has said it does want to restart it eventually and will submit a plan to authorities on how they will ensure a similar break never happens again. But the company has not committed to moving it out of the Lake Maumelle Watershed, which provides drinking water to about 400,000 people.

Graham Rich, CEO of Central Arkansas Water, says they’ve learned from the experience.

"Through the process, what we have learned is that while this has been just a horrible, catastrophic event, it can serve as an exercise for us to be better at responding in the future," Rich said.

"We still have many, many, many questions and we probably have more questions than what we have learned to date about root causes and future plans of action (by ExxonMobile) to either abandon or make exisiting repairs to the pipeline."

But the utility has been adamant that it wants the 65-year-old pipe moved out of the watershed.

Republican 2nd Congressman Tim Griffin was among the panelists and believes pressure can prompt the company to change its mind.

"I think the number one tool that we have is the political process to get more incensed about it and to speak out on just moving it.  Look, I think there are people inside Exxon, and I don't have any direct evidence to this, except an antidote here and there, but I think there are people within Exxon who believe it will have to be moved eventually."

Meanwhile a lawsuit is pending by the state and federal governments seeking punitive damages. Attorney General McDaniel said during the program that the spill never should have happened and that ExxonMobil should be punished for that.

ExxonMobil was also offered an invitation to take part in the hour-long program, but declined to attend.