Two Arkansas women filed a $5 million lawsuit against ExxonMobil after its Pegasus pipeline ruptured, spilling crude oil onto roads and front lawns. The class-action lawsuit charges the pipeline spill has permanently decreased the value of their property.
Last week the 65-year-old ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured, spewing thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude oil across lawns and down residential streets in Mayflower, a central Arkansas neighborhood, about 25 miles northwest of Little Rock. Mayflower Police Chief Robert Satkowski said an ExxonMobil pipeline sprung a leak Friday afternoon in his small city, forcing authorities to evacuate approximately 40 homes.
Two women, Kimla Greene and Kathryn Jane Roachell Chunn, filed a class-action complaint just one week after the spill occurred. Crews are still working to clean up the oil that spewed onto lawns and roadways. Nearby Lake Conway was almost fouled by this spill.
The women are seeking money to make up for “a permanent diminishment in property value,” according to the complaint. Their complaint states that the women are bringing their lawsuit on their own behalf and for other residents who live near the pipeline in Arkansas.
It is not known exactly how much money the women are looking for, but their lawsuit says they are seeking more than $5 million in damages for property owners.
The lawsuit said that part of the pipeline that ruptured was “in an unsafe, defective and deficient condition presenting an immediate environmental harm” on March 29, the day it ruptured.
“The Pegaus Pipeline running throughout the state of Arkansas is most likely to be similarly situated and maintained…” as stated in the complaint.
An Exxon spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit, but a spokeswoman has previously said its inspections were up-to-date. The part of the pipeline that ruptured was inspected in 2010 and again in February, for which it was fined, according to a corrective action order that federal pipeline safety officials issued last week.
ExxonMobil says it is investigating and working with local authorities in clean-up efforts. The company says the breach was in a pipeline that originates in Pakota, Illinois and carries crude oil to the Texas Gulf Coast.
The Pegasus pipeline was originally built in 1947 and 1948, according to federal pipeline safety officials. It is currently out of service. For that to change, ExxonMobil would need written approval from a federal pipeline safety official, according to the order from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
Police set up a checkpoint to keep residents away from the affected area, while helicopters continuously circled the neighborhood. According to a Reuters witness, a strong smell of oil, which resembled asphalt, permeated the town of Mayflower, even beyond the affected area.
Less than fifty feet from where the rupture occurred, two lawns were blackened by oil. Crews in yellow Haz-Met suits collected leaves covered with oil from the yards. Exxon said in a statement that ten “oiled ducks” were being treated at a local animal welfare center. Two more ducks had been found dead, the oil major said.
One of the Mayflower residents who were ordered to evacuate, told KTHV, “Well we could see oil running down the road like a river.” He said that he was unaware of the pipeline and only lives four or five homes down from the rupture. He said that he is fearful of the effects on his 8-year-old daughter. “Is she supposed to ride her bicycle out here playing with kids out here?” Bradley asked.
Mayflower residents grew frustrated with Exxon waiting to be able to move back into their homes. “We’re getting contradictory answers, when we were initially evacuated we were told to pack for two days it’ll be cleaned up,” said Darren Hale, a homeowner who was forced to evacuate. “Then we were told this morning to pack for at least a week.”
Exxon did not have a specific amount of how much oil was released when the 20-inch line ruptured. The company repeated its statement from the prior day that 12,000 barrels of oil and water had been recovered.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has labeled the rupture as a “major spill.”
ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline crosses 13 miles of the Lake Maumelle watershed. Many are concerned that this may pose a risk to Central Arkansas’ water supply, which includes drinking water for Little Rock, the capital and largest city in Arkansas.
Traders said a prolonged disruption of Canadian crude supplies on the Pegasus line could increase prices for physical crude in the Gulf Coast.
“An influx of tar sands on the U.S. pipeline network poses greater risks to pipeline integrity, challenges for leak detection systems and significantly increased impacts to sensitive water resources,” environmental group, Natural Resources Defense Council said in an email on Monday.
This is not the first time ExxonMobil is responsible for a major oil spill. Since 2006, according to the PHMSA, “incidents” on pipelines controlled by ExxonMobil Pipeline Co or Mobil Pipeline Co caused more than $147 million in property damage and spilled 6,830 “gross barrels” of hazardous liquids.
About two years ago, Exxon had another crude oil pipeline rupture that sent 1,500 barrels into the Yellowstone River in Montana. The 40,000 barrel-a-day Silvertip pipeline ruptured underneath the river in July 2011 after heavy flooding. It did not fully restart for two months after Exxon dug deeper under the riverbed and installed the new section.
Last week, PHMSA recommended that Exxon pay a $1.7 million fine over pipeline safety violations stemming from the Silvertip spill.
For more information, contact a Gacovino Lake attorney at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).