ExxonMobil failed to correctly follow their own emergency response plan, a lawsuit filed on behalf of 64 Mayflower and Lake Conway residents alleges.
The suit, filed by Conway firm Brazil, Adlong & Mickel, states that a series of emergency procedures named the “Corsicana Response Zone Plan” required the company to detect a pipeline leak within 3 minutes and shut down the pipeline within nine minutes of discovery. Instead, the suit alleges, ExxonMobil discovered the leak at 1:15 p.m. on March 29 and failed to stop flow through the pipeline until between 2:50 and 2:55 p.m.
Also brought up in the complaint against ExxonMobil is a $26,000 fine levied against the company by the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) for “allowing five years to lapse between inspections of a portion of the Pegasus Pipeline located in Missouri and Illinois.” The complaint also offers the similar failure of ExxonMobil’s Silvertip pipeline in June, 2011, which released about 63,000 gallons of oil into Montana’s Yellowstone River, as evidence that the company knew of the likelihood of failure in pipelines of the type that burst in Mayflower.
The Pegasus pipeline was constructed in 1947 and 1948 to carry finished petroleum products from the Gulf coast ot the Midwest, and used electrical resistance welding to join the ends of curled steel sheets to make a tube. In 2002 the pipeline was idled, and in 2006 it was repurposed to carry tar sands crude oil from Illinois to Texas, reversing the flow through the pipeline, and in 2009 increased flow by about 50 percent. The complaint states that PHMSA in 1988 and 1989 advised against increasing the flow pressure and reversing flow in older pipelines like Pegasus, and that a 2006 hydrostatic test burst the pipe in at least 12 places.
Most of the plaintiffs represented in the suit, none of which live or lived in the Northwoods subdivision that became the epicenter of the spill, claim damages related to noxious and harmful fumes that permeated the general South Lake Conway area in the weeks after the pipeline burst.
One plaintiff seeks damages resulting from the “adverse, negative and uncertain effect on property values caused by the oil spill.” This plaintiff, trustee of the Ulah Marie McClure Family Trust, claims that three offers to purchase a home and property belonging to the trust on the 100 block of Highway 89 South fell through because all of the prospective buyers were unable to obtain financing or title insurance as a result of the stigma cast over the region by the oil spill.
Other plaintiffs claim physical illness brought about by the benzine and hydrogen sulfide gasses (a known carcinogen and a highly toxic and noxious gas, respectively), mental anguish and/or disruption, discomfort and annoyance, out-of-pocket expenses and other economic and business losses. A plaintiff described in the complaint as a subsistence fisherman claims that he cannot eat fish from Lake Conway since the spill, and another family represented claims that the fumes sickened them to the point of needing medical treatment and forced them from their home for several days.
The suit frames theories of negligence in the company’s failure to exercise due care in the pipeline’s maintenance and inspection, the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitor, in which a certain harm would not ordinarily occur is the defendant had exercised ordinary care, and a theory of strict liability in which ExxonMobil’s engaging in an ultrahazardous activity, like transporting oil, imposes liability for damages resulting from the hazardous activity even without negligence.
Named defendants in the suit are ExxonMobil Corporation, ExxonMobil Pipeline Company, Mobil Pipe Line Company, and two Faulkner County and one Garland County individual employees of ExxonMobil Pipeline Company responsible for inspecting and maintaining the Pegasus pipeline. Compensatory and punitive damages are sought.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277. 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)