Pipeline Leak Keeps Residents Away

Tuesday, April 9, 2013 @ 05:04 PM gHale

At first, the evacuation was going to be short, but it seems now a good chunk of homeowners will not be able to return to their homes until next month after an ExxonMobil pipeline broke last week spewing thousands of barrels of crude oil into their neighborhood in Mayflower, AR.

Two property owners in the neighborhood where the incident occurred filed a federal class-action lawsuit Friday against ExxonMobil, owner of the 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline that ruptured, saying their property values suffered permanent damage.

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Twenty-two homes ended up evacuated a week ago Friday in an area dotted with small lakes and ponds less than a mile from the 10-square-mile Lake Conway and about three miles from the Arkansas River. The residents of the Northwoods subdivision don’t know when they’ll be able to move back into their houses. They were able to get into their homes last Saturday to retrieve items.

Residents have filed about 140 claims for compensation so far in connection with the rupture, ExxonMobil officials said. Representatives met privately with 40 to 50 residents earlier this week to tell them about the cleanup’s progress.

“There was a bunch of people there asking about their property value and how they’re never going to be able to sell their house,” said Joe Bradley of Mayflower, about 25 miles northwest of Little Rock, Ark. “Their house is their biggest investment, and they really had no reply. Just ‘talk to the claims department,’ they said.”

Some residents didn’t realize they had an oil pipeline under their property.

About 19,000 barrels of oil and water — almost 800,000 gallons — ended up removed from the site since the rupture occurred March 29. An ExxonMobil spokesperson said they collected about half of the oil in the subdivision.

ExxonMobil and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said oil did not flow into Lake Conway, but some residents say that oil in the streets went into storm drains that connect to a tributary to the fishing lake. There were no human injuries.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency and Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality have been monitoring air quality in the area, saying levels of airborne contaminants here continue to be below levels likely to cause health problems except in the immediate area of the spill.

“No one has any earthly idea what caused this accident,” said Brigham McCown, a former deputy administrator for the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

A 2010 test by ExxonMobil showed no problems, federal officials said earlier this week. The company has yet to file results from a February 2013 inspection.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has categorized the incident as a major spill, according to Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who has given the company until Wednesday to comply with a subpoena he issued demanding investigative reports, inspection reports and other information about the pipeline rupture.

The 848-mile Pegasus pipeline, built in 1947 and 1948, used to transport oil from Nederland, Texas, to Patoka, Ill. The flow reversed in 2006 as oil production from the Alberta tar sands increased. Critics say that change may have contributed to the break because the heavier oil is more acidic than other crude and must flow at higher temperatures, both linked to increased pipe corrosion.

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