Panel discusses Mayflower oil spill effects

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A year after a major oil spill in a small Arkansas town, a congressman says that while communities believe they are ready for a disaster, there is always something else to do to prepare.

The Clinton School of Public Service invited public officials to its campus in Little Rock on Monday to discuss what they may have learned from the March 29, 2013, spill in Mayflower.

“You’re never as ready as you think you are,” said Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., whose district includes the town. “You’re never as ready as you need to be.”

More than 200,000 gallons of heavy crude spilled from ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline beneath Mayflower, soiling a neighborhood and threatening Lake Conway, a popular fishing hole. The spill has triggered more than a dozen lawsuits, including one by the state.

Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson, the chief administrator for the county where the spill occurred, said residents don’t want to suffer through a similar incident.

“To state the obvious, the No. 1 lesson learned with the Pegasus pipeline rupture is that we do not need another rupture,” he said.

ExxonMobil has blamed a manufacturing defect in the 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline.

Most of the areas contaminated by the oil leak have been cleaned, however some oil remains in Lake Conway’s Dawson Cove. State regulators have approved a plan to clean up those areas.

The pipeline, which runs about 850 miles from Illinois to the Texas Gulf Coast, was closed following last year’s spill. The U.S. government has approved a plan to restart a section of the pipeline in Texas. But in Arkansas, the company has only submitted a plan to rehabilitate it, the Log Cabin Democrat newspaper of Conway reported Monday.

About 20 lawsuits have been filed against ExxonMobil, many seeking damages due to health problems or reduced property values.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel also has filed a joint lawsuit with U.S. Attorney Christopher Thyer. ExxonMobil has asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.

McDaniel said many Mayflower residents were unaware an oil pipeline snaked underneath their homes. He also said Arkansas was fortunate in where the pipeline ruptured, because the damage could have been much worse in other locations.

“It could have been beneath the Arkansas River,” McDaniel said. “It could have been in an area where it would have taken two days literally to use bulldozers to plow a road just through the forest just to get to it. We were lucky. Were you lucky if you lived in that neighborhood? No, of course not. But from an ecological standpoint, it could have been much more disastrous in different areas.”

Graham Rich, CEO of Central Arkansas Water, said he does not foresee Exxon Mobil relocating the Pegasus pipeline from Mayflower based on what the company has said. But, Griffin said, he believes the oil giant won’t restart the pipeline in Arkansas based on his conversations with federal regulators.

Central Arkansas Water supplies drinking water for nearly 400,000 Arkansans.

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