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Officials look back at oil spill with uncertainty

Posted: March 31, 2014 - 6:32pm

LITTLE ROCK — Panelists had much criticism for ExxonMobil Pipeline Company, which did not have a presence Monday at the Clinton School of Public Service-hosted oil spill discussion, held for the one-year anniversary of the Pegasus pipeline rupture in Mayflower.

A group of five - Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Hazardous Waste Chief Tammie Hynum, and Central Arkansas Water CEO Graham Rich - hit on communication through the response and claims periods, a lack of information regarding the rupture's exact cause and potential dangers that could still exist near the pipeline in areas like the Lake Maumelle Watershed, a major fresh water source for the state.

Lessons learned was a theme posed for each panelist, and McDaniel, admitting the state's reliance on fossil fuels, said it is important to remember the "political process" on the front end of projects like the proposed Magellan pipeline and Valero's Diamond Pipeline Project, two that would stretch across the state to Fort Smith.

As the companies work toward the projects, McDaniel noted a stark contrast between Magellan and Valero - Magellan being open "on the front end" and supportive of avoiding sensitive ecological areas in the state, while Valero has a projected path through wildlife areas and less communication.

Retrospectively, McDaniel said out of sight can't mean out of mind with thousands of miles of subterranean infrastructures in the state. He said a common theme heard was that residents did not know a pipeline was near their homes in Mayflower.

He said the state is still in anticipating a February day in court on penalties for violation of federal and state clean water and air acts, but the McDaniel will be out of office at that point.

His office, which he said carved out a role for its environmental division, has worked daily on the oil spill and will represent the ADEQ in another aspect of litigation he expects will not be filed until he has left office.

Part of the state's lawsuit against Exxon deals with ADEQ hazardous waste storage violations.

Other criticisms from McDaniel included disbelief at federal pipeline regulators and Exxon's talks of putting any of the Pegasus pipeline back in service without knowing exactly what caused the rupture in Mayflower.

The evacuation area should have been larger, McDaniel also said, and residents who were mandatorily evacuated should not have to deal with a legal status that differs from their neighbors.

The differing legal status has caused more steps for residents in litigation, he said.

Griffin had remarks about the various perspectives from the residents who were effected by the spill, and used the Log Cabin Democrat's Faces of Mayflower series as an example of some affected parties receiving information and others being left in the dark.

He spoke of a general lack of ease in the claims process based on feedback from some of his constituents who reached out to him for help.

Griffin said he made many telephone calls between residents and Exxon for claims purposes and said he was "down in the weeds" dealing with it.

"People were unhappy, and they had a reason to be," he said.

ADEQ's Hynum said communication could have been better, and though it was effective there was room for improvement.

She said in retrospect, there could have been more of a public information presence on the ground in Mayflower.

When asked by moderator Skip Rutherford, Clinton School dean, if she would eat fish out of Lake Conway, she replied that she would, "based on the information that I have today."

She praised agencies' planning and training that were beneficial in the spill response.

Hynum said she is satisfied with Exxon's progress to date, and explained in an earlier interview the ADEQ approved a downtown area data assessment report that gave current information on the environmental concerns at Lake Conway and Dawson's Cove, a small body of water that feeds into the lake.

Evaluation of data showed a need to remove some sediment in the Cove and the need to remove vegetation in the marsh area where oil gathered on the oil's route of travel.

She said ADEQ anticipates a "pre-design study" from Exxon on April 19, which will detail the remedial actions Exxon will carry out.

Then will come a mitigation action plan that includes a schedule of implementation by Exxon.

CAW's Rich said his concern is as it has always been, the faulty Pegasus pipeline's presence inside the Lake Maumelle Watershed, which provides water to more than 400,000 customers.

When asked by Rutherford if he believes from his talks with Exxon that the pipeline may be moved from the watershed, Rich replied it seems "highly unlikely."

In watching the Lake Conway watershed experience, Rich said his group has learned not to take anything at face value, and to independently investigate.

Rich said he has seen Exxon continuously performing maintenance on the pipeline rather than providing complete repairs, and his frustrations "could go on and on."

He said he wants to know the exact cause of the rupture in Mayflower, and he does not feel comfortable that the rest of the pipeline doesn't share similarities.

He's also not sure the product that is being pushed through the pipe is the product his group had originally understood.

Dodson said he feels Central Arkansas Water's concerns and that the pipeline is still in the Lake Conway Watershed.

"If we do nothing different from this day forward, we will have the same result," he said.

Rutherford said Exxon was invited to participate in the panel but declined citing pending litigation.

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lachowsj
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lachowsj 03/31/14 - 08:16 pm
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Broken space bar

Looks like Courtney has a broken space bar on her computer.

Courtney Spradlin
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Courtney Spradlin 03/31/14 - 08:35 pm
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Sorry about the formatting

Sorry about the formatting problem. Filed the story away from the office.

lachowsj
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lachowsj 04/01/14 - 05:52 am
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All fixed

And now it's all fixed. Hope I wasn't too critical.

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