Court Says Arkansas Oil Spill Lawsuit Against ExxonMobil To Proceed

Arkansas Oil Spill Lawsuit Against ExxonMobil To Proceed by Chuck Bartels, Associated Press, June 10, 2014,
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A lawsuit filed by federal and state officials will go forward against ExxonMobil over a crude oil spill that forced the evacuation of 22 homes in Mayflower, a U.S. district judge ruled Monday. U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel sued the energy company after an estimated 150,000 gallons of oil spilled from ExxonMobil’s Pegasus Pipeline, fouling a cove in Lake Conway and nearby land.

ExxonMobil had asked U.S. District judge Kristine Baker to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that Thyer and McDaniel didn’t state a claim or otherwise establish that the company should have to pay fines over the spill.

The joint lawsuit seeks $45,000 per day for violations since the March 29, 2013, spill. The court action also alleges ExxonMobil improperly stored hazardous material collected from the site of the spill.

After the suit was filed, ExxonMobil pledged to cooperate with all agencies investigating the rupture.

On Monday, ExxonMobil spokesman Aaron Stryk said company officials hadn’t had time to read the 17-page order and would have no comment.

McDaniel’s spokesman, Aaron Sadler, said in an email, “We appreciate the court’s attention to this matter. Now that it is resolved, we can proceed toward trial.”

The lawsuit involves five separate allegations: two violations of the federal Clean Water Act, two violations of the state’s air and water regulations and one hazardous materials violation.

Baker ruled that the state and federal officials can stake a claim for civil penalties for water quality violations despite ExxonMobil’s argument the state didn’t establish the area of Lake Conway as “navigable waters.”

McDaniel and Thyer argued that ExxonMobil engaged in gross negligence or willful misconduct, which would increase the penalties to which the company would be exposed.

The company argued that Thyer and McDaniel didn’t state any facts to support their attempt to increase ExxonMobil’s liability. But Baker wrote that negligence or misconduct “are degrees of culpability which, if established at trial, the court will consider when assessing the appropriate penalties.”

Baker left the door open to rule later in favor of ExxonMobil in some elements of the case but, for now, let the case stand. “The court declines to dismiss any of the alleged Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act water pollution violations at this stage in the proceedings,” Baker wrote. [Emphasis added]

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