NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas and the federal government filed a joint lawsuit Thursday against ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. and Mobil Pipeline Co. alleging violations of state and federal pollution laws related to the March 29 pipeline rupture and oil spill in Mayflower.
The state is seeking civil penalties for violations of the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act and the state Hazardous Waste Management Act.
The state also asks the court to issue a declaratory judgment against the defendants for payment of removal costs and damages under authority granted to the state by the federal Oil Pollution Act.
The federal government is seeking civil penalties and injunctive relief under the federal Clean Water Act.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Little Rock.
"The oil spill disrupted lives. This oil spill harmed the environment, and this oil spill was in violation of both state and federal law," state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said during a news conference at the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality headquarters.
"This 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," McDaniel said, 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."
Since the pipeline rupture spewed thousands of gallons of oil onto streets and yards in the Northwoods subdivision and nearby wetlands, crews have been working to remove tainted water and soil. Twenty homes were evacuated after the rupture.
"As of today, none of those evacuated residents have returned to their homes and the future of many homeowners remains uncertain," McDaniel said.
The attorney general and ADEQ Director Teresa Marks said one of the concerns is that Exxon has been storing waste, including petroleum-contaminated soil, water and debris, wood chips, mud, concrete and asphalt at a site on Arkansas 36 in Conway without a permit from the state pollution control agency.
"To store this material without following the law in advance and then not remove it upon being demanded to do so, we felt was particularly concerning," McDaniel said.
Marks said the department gave the company until May 8 to remove the debris, but only some has been removed.
"The concern is that it is being stored off site and it’s being stored for a longer period of time than it is to be stored," Marks said. "This is not a place where they are authorized or permitted to store … and there is always a concern where something could happen and their could be a leak."
Arkansas law provides for civil penalties of $10,000 per violation per day for violations of the Water and Air Pollution Control Act, and civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation per day for violations of the Hazardous Waste Management Act.
McDaniel said the joint state and federal lawsuit does not conflict with or effect in any way any private lawsuits that have been filed or may be filed by residents in the Mayflower subdivision.
U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer said civil penalties for violation of the federal Clean Water Act include up to $1,100 per barrel of oil discharged, or up to $4,300 per barrel if gross negligence or willful misconduct can be proven. He said it is too early to tell if there was gross negligence or willful misconduct on the part of the oil company.
"The Clean Water Act has a zero tolerance for oil spills," Thyer said, adding that both the state and federal government have and will continue to take the rupture at Mayflower seriously.
"We will use all available remedies to ensure that Mayflower and Lake Conway are cleaned up and make sure that this doesn’t happen again here or elsewhere," he said.
Thyer and McDaniel said they did not know how much the clean-up effort had cost so far, nor how high the cost would eventually go. They said they also did not want to speculate on how much environmental damage had been caused by the pill.
McDaniel said the investigation is continuing.
Aaron Stryk, spokesman for Exxon Mobile Corp., had little comment on the lawsuit Thursday.
"We aware of the filing; however, we have yet to review the allegations and have not been formally served with the complaint," he said, adding the oil company "will continue to cooperate with all federal, state and local agencies. "
Karen Tyrone, the company’s vice president of operations, said in April that the owners of all 62 homes in the Northwoods subdivision have each been paid $10,000 for any inconvenience caused by the oil spill.