A settlement between the federal government, the state of Arkansas and ExxonMobil is now final over a lawsuit the governments had filed against the pipeline company over environmental violations arising from the 2013 Mayflower oil spill. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker approved the agreement Wednesday.
The proposed consent decree between all parties was announced in April. Under the settlement, ExxonMobil must pay a total of $5 million dollars in state and federal penalties for violating the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. The company's Pegasus Pipeline ruptured on March 29th, 2013 in a residential subdivision of Mayflower, spilling an estimated 134,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into streets, yards, streams and wetlands around Lake Conway.
John Tynan, Director of Customer Relations and Public Affairs of Central Arkansas Water—one of the most vocal critics of the consent decree—says while the utility disagrees with the outcome, they will continue to pursue “other avenues” to convince Exxon to move the Pegasus pipeline out of the Lake Maumelle watershed. The lake is a source of drinking water for nearly 400,000 people in and around Little Rock.
“CAW has been in dialogue with ExxonMobil, we're going to continue those. And hopefully [we] can mutually agree on a number of integrity improvements,” Tynan said.
As part of the consent decree, Exxon must also establish three caches of equipment along the pipeline to be used for containment of any possible future spills, provide supplemental emergency first response training for certain company employees over the next two years, and meet federal regulations for treating a segment of the pipeline determined “susceptible to longitudinal seam failure.”
The pipeline rupture in Mayflower was determined to be caused by a seam failure in a weld that was original to the pipeline's construction.
“Obviously Central Arkansas Water had hoped for a different outcome through this process,” Tynan said. “We had asked the judge to either reject the settlement and ask the parties to try and negotiate one that has more protections for the citizens of Arkansas. Or at the very least delay it until there was some assurance we'd get some integrity through the PHMSA related process.”
Exxon is appealing an order by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration or PHMSA after the agency found nine violations and fined the company $2.6 million. PHMSA is expected to issue a decision on that case in the near future.
Regarding the settlement, an Exxon spokesman Richard Keil said in a statement they “appreciate final resolution on this matter.”
“As the court held, the consent decree is fair adequate, reasonable, and consistent with the Clean Water Act,” Keil said.
On the upcoming PHMSA decision, Keil said “We'll continue to ensure the maintenance and any future operation of the pipeline remains in compliance with all relevant U.S. Department of Transportation standards and regulations.” PHMSA is a division of the Transportation Department.
Responding to an inquiry for comment on Baker's approval of the settlement, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office (which represented the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in the suit) sent this statement:
“While certainly not perfect, this settlement secured a State civil penalty of $1 million – a historic dollar amount for an Arkansas settlement regarding air and water violations – that allows the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to supplement funds available to address emergency actions and requires greater scrutiny by federal pipeline regulators. Unfortunately, no legal document, dollar amount or additional safety regulations can take away the heartache of those impacted by this spill in the Mayflower community. ExxonMobil was responsible for the damage to the environment and for disrupting lives of Arkansans; however, the State must have a better preparedness and enforcement plan to protect Arkansans. I am committed to working with the Governor, General Assembly and our federal delegation to make that happen.”
Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman with the U.S. Justice Department (which represented the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), sent the following statement:
“We're pleased with the court's approval of this important settlement, which is good for public health and the environment of Mayflower, a community that was so disastrously impacted by this oil spill. It will also help prevent future disasters by requiring better pipeline safety and response measures."
The Justice Department responded last month to CAW's earlier objections to the consent decree (which were sent in a letter to Judge Baker), saying the utility's main concern—removing the pipeline from the Maumelle watershed—was outside the scope of the agreement.