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Arkansas Oil Spill: U.S. Government and Arkansas Sue ExxonMobil Over Spill

The U.S. Justice Department and Arkansas filed a joint lawsuit against the oil giant Exxon Mobil on Thursday in relation to an oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas back in March. Dozens of homes in the area had to be evacuated after an estimated 84,000 gallons of crude oil spilt onto residential streets and nearby wetlands following the rupture of the company's Pegasus pipeline, which runs from Illinois to Texas. The pipeline is still shut down and clean-up still continues in the town. The lawsuit argues that Exxon violated both state and federal waste and pollution laws.

Ironically, the spill, which occurred on March 29, came just days after the company was awarded the Green Cross for Safety medal, in honor of its "comprehensive commitment to safety excellence," by the National Safety Council. Clearly it was a bit premature.

Image credit: EPA

The Justice Department and the State of Arkansas are seeking damages for alleged violations of federal and state waste and pollution laws respectively, while Arkansas is also seeking a ruling that Exxon is liable to pay for damages resulting from the spill of about 5,000 barrels worth of oil. During a news conference, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said that the "lawsuit is based on the fact that the pipeline rupture caused the release of Canadian tar sands oil that polluted the state’s air, soil and waters, [and] has caused a significant and lasting negative impact upon our state’s environment, and Exxon as responsible party for the incident should be penalized for those impacts." The company says that it is aware that the lawsuit has been filed but has yet to review the allegations against it.

Image credit: EPA

Back in May, residents and property owners in Mayflower also filed a lawsuit against Exxon seeking damages from the spill. According to the lawsuit, residents have suffered health issues since the spill, as well as property damage and declines in property value. Speaking on Thursday, McDaniel said that "as of today, none of those evacuated residents have returned to their homes and the future of many homeowners remains uncertain." He also noted that the joint lawsuit does not conflict with the lawsuit filed by residents and property owners in May or any future lawsuits.

Image credit: EPA

The oil spill highlighted concerns surrounding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project which would transport over 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day. Exxon's Pegasus pipeline transferred just 95,000, from Canada to Texas. Following the Mayflower spill, environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and 350.org called on the Obama administration to extend the time for public discussion of the pipeline. The government is expected to make a decision on whether to approve it or not around July or August of this year.

As TransCanada, the company behind the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, has stepped up its efforts to combat opposition to the project by hiring a "communications specialist" with no known experience on energy and environmental issues, the damage caused by the spill in Mayflower highlights just a few of the very real dangers posed by the short-sighted project.

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