Water Contamination Risk Basis of Objection to Mayflower, Arkansas Oil Spill Settlement

Central Arkansas Water (CAW), in a 21-page letter dated May 28, 2015, raised a number of objections to the $5 million settlement reached between the state and federal governments and Exxon Mobil Pipeline Company as a result of the March 2013 rupture of the Pegasus Pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. The main basis of CAW’s objection to the Mayflower, Arkansas Oil Spill Settlement is the risk posed to the water supply of over 750,000 Arkansans by continued operation of the 1940s-era pipeline.

Letter: Settlement Fails to Protect Water Supply

In the letter, which was sent with the support of several other municipal water companies and the cities of Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Cabot, Bryant and Hot Springs, CAW states that many water users in the state:

[O]btain water from sources at risk from contamination from the aging Pegasus pipeline. Collectively, the Pegasus pipeline jeopardizes the water supply for over 750,000 Arkansans. Approximately 400,000 of these individuals reside in the central Arkansas region and they are provided drinking water through CAW. CAW’s primary water source is Lake Maumelle, a 9,000-acre surface reservoir located several miles west of Little Rock. The watershed of Lake Maumelle is traversed by the Defendants’ Pegasus pipeline for approximately 13.6 miles.

Specific concerns raised by CAW with regards to the failure of the settlement to protect at-risk water supplies include assertions that:

  • Exxon failed to take appropriate steps before the Mayflower Oil Spill to protect the integrity of the pipeline despite knowing that it was “subject to seam failure no later than 2006, and likely as early as 1991.”
  • Exxon should agree that its failure to modify its pipeline integrity practices in 2006 constituted “gross negligence.”
  • The pipeline spill training that the settlement requires Exxon employees to undergo is inadequate.

The letter calls on the state and federal governments to move the pipeline completely outside of the Lake Maumelle watershed, which supplies water to over 400,000 residents of central Arkansas, and to require that other sections of the “decrepit” pipeline be reinforced in areas where it crosses rivers and streams.

Exxon’s “Prior Lack of Compliance and Acceptance of Responsibility” Cited

CAW’s letter also reflects “a complete lack of confidence in [Exxon]’s ability to thoroughly and correctly abide by both the letter and intent of the” settlement. Among the bases of this lack of confidence is another rupture of an Exxon pipeline, in the Yellowstone River, where “regulators had warned [Exxon] of seven safety violations along the line. Two of the warnings noted [Exxon’s] lax emergency response training.”

Additionally, with respect to the Pegasus Pipeline, CAW notes that it sent regulators a letter identifying “numerous deficiencies regarding [Exxon’s] operation of the pipeline” as early as July 2010—over two years before the Mayflower Oil Spill.

Finally, CAW cites at least six violations of the Pipeline Safety Act by Exxon that it identified with respect to the rupture of the Pegasus Pipeline. According to CAW, “these violations have yet to be addressed and [Exxon] refuses to acknowledge responsibility for these violations.”

Additional Accountability Demanded from Exxon

CAW concludes its letter by setting out 15 requests for additional action to be taken on the part of Exxon to ensure the integrity of the Pegasus Pipeline and to provide heightened accountability with respect to the operation of the pipeline. The letter ends with a call for the federal government to:

[I]nclude real and meaningful measures to protect the citizens and water supplies from further damage caused by rupture in the Pegasus pipeline….Without replacement of every section of defective pipe susceptible to [failure], the pipeline will rupture again.

Residents’ Claims Not Affected

Mayflower Oil Spill attorneys note that, regardless of any action taken in response to the CAW letter, Exxon’s settlement with the state and federal governments does not apply to lawsuits filed on behalf of residents directly affected by the rupture. Several of those cases have been set for trial in October 2015, with pretrial preparation ongoing.

Contact Us for More Information

If you would like more information on the Mayflower, Arkansas Oil Spill Settlement, or if you are a Mayflower resident with questions about your legal rights, contact Linville Johnson at (501) 777-7777, by email at [email protected], or by filling out our online contact form.