LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A federal judge approved a $5 million settlement among the operators of an oil pipeline, the state of Arkansas and the federal government Wednesday, finding that the deal to end claims stemming from a spill two years ago satisfied the public interest even if it might not be the best pact possible.
Crude oil breached the Pegasus pipeline on March 29, 2013, oozing 3,190 barrels of oil onto land and water at Mayflower, 20 miles northwest of Little Rock. Exxon Mobil Corp. agreed to pay $3.19 million in fines to the federal government, plus nearly $1.9 million in fines, fees and other payments to Arkansas.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker said the agreement complies with the Clean Water Act and is fair to all parties. She rejected a request by the water utility that serves Little Rock to have the company move another portion of the pipeline that runs through a major reservoir’s watershed.
“A consent decree is not reviewed as a judgment on the merits … and it is not (the court’s) function to determine whether this is the best possible settlement,” Baker wrote, quoting previous cases. She said the pact was “within the reaches of the public interest.”
The state and federal governments had sued ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. and the Mobil Pipe Line Co. after the leak, as did a number of individuals. Wednesday’s agreement concerned only the governments’ interests.
“While certainly not perfect, this settlement secured a state civil penalty of $1 million - a historic dollar amount for an Arkansas settlement regarding air and water violations,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in an emailed statement.
The company will pay Rutledge’s office $280,000 in legal fees, provide spill-response supplies at depots near Mayflower and Dallas and Corsicana, Texas, and pay $600,000 to aid environmental projects around Lake Conway, which was threatened by the spill.
“ExxonMobil was responsible for the damage to the environment and for disrupting lives of Arkansans; however, the state must have a better preparedness and enforcement plan to protect Arkansans,” Rutledge said.
ExxonMobil spokesman Christian Flathman said the agreement was fair, adequate, reasonable and consistent with the Clean Water Act.
“We appreciate final resolution on this matter and acceptance of the terms of the settlement,” he said in an emailed statement.
Central Arkansas Water, with more than 400,000 customers in the Little Rock metropolitan area, had written to Baker opposing the settlement, saying the pipeline operators should relocate the 67-year-old line further away from Lake Maumelle, a manmade reservoir just 8 miles away from where the leak occurred.
In court papers filed last month, the pipeline operators said the line was already relocated in 1956 to a spot that the utility requested. Baker rejected the utility’s concerns but its spokesman said it would continue to weigh in with the pipeline’s regulators.
“Obviously, we were hoping for a different outcome,” said John Tynan, a spokesman for Central Arkansas Water.
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