McDaniel says litigation with ExxonMobil a 'certainty'

Attorney General starts oil spill investigation with subpoena

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said at a Mayflower press conference Wednesday he has issued a subpoena for documents, data and other evidence from ExxonMobil pertaining to the crude oil spill that dumped thousands of barrels of oil in Mayflower last week.

McDaniel, coming to the defense of Mayflower homeowners and residents, said future litigation with ExxonMobil, the company responsible for the oil spill, is a “certainty.”

McDaniel fielded press inquiries about a closed meeting held Tuesday between still displaced residents of Northwoods subdivision and ExxonMobil representatives.

Accounts from residents inside the meeting reported to local news agencies indicated some homeowners were not satisfied with representatives’ responses about potential reduction of property values inside the neighborhood where the Pegasus pipeline ruptured.

“I would think it is very reasonable to think selling a house in the neighborhood has become substantially more difficult. The fault of that, and the responsibility of that should not fall on the shoulders of homeowners,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel was critical of ExxonMobil representatives who he said tried to route him into a van for a tour of the site Wednesday.

“I explained to them I’m not here for a tour and I’m not getting in a van. We’re here on behalf of the State of Arkansas as the state’s lawyer, a constitutional officer empowered by the General Assembly to enforce our laws, and we’re here to conduct an investigation, not take a tour,” McDaniel told members of the press. “I didn’t appreciate how we were treated, so I can only imagine how some of the homeowners must have felt.”

McDaniel likened the scene at Northwoods subdivision to one from “The Walking Dead,” a post-apocalyptic television series with zombies and images of abandoned urban landscapes.

“There were still Easter decorations on homes, but not a soul in sight other than people in Hazmat suits,” he said.

McDaniel, who said he was emotionally impacted by Wednesday’s visit to Mayflower, said he has been reminded by ExxonMobil representatives that the spill is “relatively small,” and cleanup is “going just great.”

“I hope they realize for the homeowners in this area, it is not small. It is catastrophic. For those who fear for their drinking water, it is not great,” he said.

Though he had scathing remarks for what he perceived as a downplay of the incident by ExxonMobil representatives, he said the company’s legal office has responded appropriately to his requests.

As far as ground response, McDaniel said ExxonMobil appears to be doing what they can.

He said he knows of about 600 responders without counting those offering resources off site.

McDaniel said lawyers from ExxonMobil were due to arrive in Mayflower Wednesday.

“It’s a certainty this will be in litigation at some point,” he said.

Congressman Tim Griffin, who was also in Mayflower Wednesday, said ExxonMobil representatives told him it would be a matter of days, and not weeks, before about 22 displaced households would return to the neighborhood where the pipeline ruptured.

Griffin said he was told crews were removing dirt saturated with crude oil and performing other landscape work so residents could return.

He said he also heard from officials that air quality testing in the neighborhood showed air was “negative for dangerous substances.”

“I have confidence if there’s a problem we need to know about, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the Department of Transportation would tell us,” Griffin said, referencing the collective body of federal, state and local agencies monitoring the site and other affected areas.

McDaniel complained of a headache Wednesday at the press conference at Mayflower City Hall after “limited exposure” to the rupture site in Northwoods. He said his staffers were also experiencing side effects from oil fumes, and that he was told several children at a nearby elementary school had been sent home earlier in the day after they became nauseous.

The amount of the crude mixture McDaniel referred to as “tar sands” that was spilled is estimated by ExxonMobil to be 3,500 to 5,000 barrels, according to a corrective action order issued by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

An ExxonMobil representative previously reported “several thousands of barrels” were observed above ground by officials in Mayflower.

The company’s response is based on recovering 10,000 barrels, or 420,000 gallons.

The oil has made its way to the marshy area just north of the Bell Slough Wildlife Management Area, but not to Lake Conway, according to officials.

Mayflower residents with claims or those who spot “oiled” animals are encouraged to call the ExxonMobil claims number at 1-800-876-9291.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)

 

 

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