ExxonMobil Corp. may go to trial in June to face pollution charges stemming from its March 29 oil spill that left an Arkansas community swamped in highly toxic tar sands crude.
U.S. District Judge James Moody’s proposed schedule calls for the trial to start during the week of June 16. ExxonMobil faces a joint lawsuit filed by federal and Arkansas authorities seeking damages for its alleged violations of the U.S. Clean Water Act, the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act, and other federal and state anti-pollution statutes.
Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline, a 70-year-old pipe that moves refined Canadian tar sands fuel from Indiana to the Texas Gulf Coast, ruptured on March 29, flooding a suburban neighborhood in Mayflower, Ark., with more than a million gallons of dense, sticky diluted bitumen (often called “dilbit”). The toxic sludge also seeped into wetlands and waterways that feed Lake Conway, a large manmade reservoir that provides water to much of the surrounding communities.
The spill forced the evacuation of 27 homes, caused a multitude of wildlife to perish, and sickened scores of local residents, who complained of the fumes for weeks.
The Arkansas Attorney General‘s office also accuses ExxonMobil of violating the state’s Hazardous Waste Management Act by storing contaminated soil, water and debris at a local facility without securing the proper permits and leaving the hazardous waste there even when the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality ordered the company to remove it.
ExxonMobil faces charges of $25,000 per violation per day under Arkansas’ hazardous waste law, $10,000 per violation per day under the state’s Pollution Control Act, and $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled under the federal Clean Water Act. The violations could amount to several million dollars in penalties.
ExxonMobil has filed a motion seeing to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Lake Conway is not a navigable waterway as defined by the Clean Water Act.
In addition to the state and federal lawsuit, ExxonMobil also faces a class-action lawsuit filed by Arkansas citizens affected by the Pegasus spill. That lawsuit accuses the company of negligence in failing to properly maintain, monitor, and operate the decades-old pipeline.