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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Class Sues Exxon for Tar Sands Oil Spill

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) - ExxonMobil faces a federal class action for the March 29 rupture of a pipeline carrying tar sands oil that was "the worst oil spill in Arkansas history."

Load plaintiffs Kathryn Jane Roachell Chunn and Kimla Green sued ExxonMobil and three pipeline subsidiaries, the March 29 spill hurt property values of homeowners within 3,000 feet of the Pegasus Pipeline.

Both plaintiffs and their families live in Mayflower, pop. 2,200, about 24 miles north of Little Rock.

The pipeline was built in the 1940s and is buried 2 feet underground. It runs 850 miles through four states, taking crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

The class blames the spill on ExxonMobil's decision in 2006 to reverse the direction of flow, followed by its decision in 2009 to increase capacity by 50 percent. The 30,000-barrels increased in the pipeline's presumed capacity affected "the hydraulic and stress demands on the pipeline," which deteriorated it, according to the complaint.

It states: "In 2006, in order to maximize profits, the defendants reversed the Pegasus Pipeline to increase the flow of crude oil southward from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The defendants desired to transport larger amounts of Canadian crude tar sands, which is more abrasive, to the Gulf Coast through the Pegasus Pipeline running through Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas. It is known in the industry that a change in the direction of oil flow in a pipeline can affect the hydraulic and stress demands on the pipeline and the abrasive quality of the hydrocarbon product can increase corrosion and deteriorate the quality of the pipe.

"The pipe was in a defective, unsafe condition and the defendants' corporate profit-enhancing decision to run a higher volume and more abrasive crude hydrocarbon through the pipeline put further stress demands on the defective pipe." (14)

The class claims that the pipeline "was and has not been properly and adequately inspected or maintained to ensure the safe transport of crude oil and/or tar sands through the entire route of the Pegasus Pipeline traversing through Arkansas."

It claims ExxonMobil was aware of the problem but continued to use the pipe.

When it broke on March 29, more than 19,000 barrels were spilled "into the nearby community adjacent to the pipeline," the complaint states.

"The release of the oil affected a large area around Mayflower, including the plaintiffs' property. The crude oil migrated into the North Woods Subdivision along North Starlite Road into a bar ditch adjacent to a Union Pacific Railroad line, into a creek and into a tributary to a cove of Lake Conway, which is also a tributary to the Arkansas River. The release of the oil due to defendants' unsafe and defective pipeline running through the State of Arkansas caused an extensive, continuous and nationally publicized evacuation of people from the real property, contaminated real property, migrated into water sources and impacted air quality. "The environmental footprint of the Pegasus Pipeline for diminishment of real property value extends, at minimum, thousands of feet from the pipeline," the complaint states.

The class seeks punitive damages for strict liability and nuisance and "for the diminishment of class members' real property."

They are represented by Justin C. Zachary with the Duncan Firm and Thomas P. Thrash, both of Little Rock.

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