U.S. Attorney & Arkansas AG File Joint Lawsuit Over Mayflower Oil Spill

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer speaking to reporters Thursday at ADEQ headquarters in North Little Rock.
Credit Michael Hibblen/ KUAR

State and federal prosecutors announced Thursday that a joint lawsuit has been filed against the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company for the rupture of the Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, which spilled an estimated 5,000 barrels of raw tar sands crude in a residential neighborhood.

“The oil spill disrupted lives. This oil harmed the environment and this oil spill was in violation of both state and federal law,” said Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Little Rock on behalf of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Standing alongside U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer, McDaniel said they felt litigation was necessary to protect the interests of the state.

The civil filing says the spill violated environmental laws and seeks civil penalties from ExxonMobil.

It also claims contaminated waste from the oil cleanup has been illegally stored at a facility, owned by a subsidiary of ExxonMobil. Officials said it included contaminated soil, debris and mixtures of oil and water.

“It’s being stored offsite on a staging area that is part of XTO, a natural gas drilling company,” said Teresa Marks, director of the ADEQ.

She said there were discussions with ExxonMobil about the waste, and that when no action was taken, a formal letter was sent to the company May 8. But at least some of the material is still being kept there, she said, as ExxonMobil decides the best way to dispose of it.

A call seeking comment from ExxonMobil was not immediately returned.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer says they are seeking penalties against the company.

“To be sure, we intend to prove that the defendants are responsible for civil penalties and injunctive relief violations pursuant to the clean water act. Those cleanup efforts are ongoing. The total extent of the damage is not yet known, but our investigation in this matter continues,” Thyer said.

Authorities are also pursuing a “declaratory judgment” under the Oil Pollution Act that seeks to require ExxonMobil to incur the full costs of clean-up and damages. Currently, there is only a non-binding assurance from the company.

“We will work together to ensure that the community that was harmed by this spill is made whole again and that those responsible for this local disaster are held accountable,” Thyer said.

Meanwhile civil lawsuits by residents of Mayflower are pending.  One of those by two homeowners seeks class action status.

A federal report by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is expected to be completed by July 10 looking into cause of the spill.  However McDaniel and Thyer said it was unclear whether it would be immediately made public.