ExxonMobil settles charges stemming from Arkansas pipeline leak

Two ExxonMobil Corp. pipeline subsidiaries agreed to pay $5 million to the US government and the state of Arkansas to settle charges stemming from a 2013 crude-oil leak in the state, the US Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency jointly announced.

ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. and Mobil Pipeline Co. agreed to pay a $3.19 million federal fine and take steps to address pipeline safety issues and oil spill response capability, the federal entities said.

They said the subsidiaries also will pay a $1 million Arkansas fine, $600,000 for a project to improve water quality at Lake Conway, and $280,000 to the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office for the state’s litigation costs.

The companies faced federal charges of violating the Clean Water Act and state charges for improper storage of hazardous waste generated during the cleanup and for water and air pollution violations under the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act and the Arkansas Hazardous Waste Management Act.

“We regret that this incident occurred and apologize for the disruption and inconvenience that it caused,” an ExxonMobil pipeline spokesman said on Apr. 22. “ExxonMobil launched a rapid and effective response and worked closely with EPA and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to ensure cleanup and restoration took place as quickly as possible.”

The Mar. 29, 2013, leak occurred when the companies’ Pegasus Pipeline, which carries heavy Canadian crude from Illinois to Texas, ruptured in the Northwoods neighborhood of Mayflower, Ark., and released 3,190 bbl, DOJ and EPA said.

They said the crude flowed through the neighborhood, contaminating homes and yards, before entering a nearby creek, wetlands, and a cove of Lake Conway. Some residents were ordered to evacuate their homes after the spill and remained displaced for an extended period, they added.

The fines under the proposed consent decree, which was filed on Apr. 22 in US District Court for Eastern Arkansas, are in addition to money ExxonMobil has paid already to reimburse federal and state response efforts and comply with orders and directives which the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued, DOJ and EPA said.

They noted that the Pegasus Pipeline segment that ruptured has not been used since it ruptured, and the settlement’s terms call for ExxonMobil to meet all of PHMSA’s corrective action requirements before returning the segment to service.

The proposed consent decree also requires ExxonMobil to take other important pipeline safety corrective actions to help prevent future ruptures and improve its spill response capabilities by providing additional training to its oil spill first responders, DOJ and EPA said.

The company also must establish caches of spill response equipment and supplies at three strategically-chosen sites along the pipeline, including one location near Mayflower in Faulkner County, the entities said.

They said the proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day comment period and court approval before it becomes final.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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