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Families Blame ExxonMobil for Oil Spill

CONWAY, Ark. (CN) - ExxonMobil exacerbated the 2013 Pegasus pipeline rupture by not immediately reporting the spill, creating the "worst crude oil and tar sands spill in Arkansas history," dozens of families claim in a class action.

Lead plaintiff Jason Hays and nearly 60 residents of Mayflower sued ExxonMobil, three pipeline subsidiaries and an operations and maintenance technician on Tuesday, in Faulkner County Court.

The 60 year-old underground pipeline burst in the small town of Mayflower, pop. 2,200, about 25 miles northwest of Little Rock on March 29, 2013.

The pipeline runs 850 miles through four states, taking crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

The families say authorities learned about the oil rupture when local citizens began calling 911 "to report the fact that crude oil was leaking through Mayflower."

More than 27,000 barrels of oil flowed through residential communities and waterways beginning at 1:15 p.m., according to the lawsuit.

"Exxon failed to report the Mayflower oil spill until 4:06 p.m., nearly three hours after the drop in pressure. Exxon failed to act because it did not immediately report the problem to the National Response Center so local officials in Arkansas could be notified and mobilize to Mayflower," the complaint states.

The families say that while the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality responded to the local calls and tried to evacuate citizens, "defendants were still deciding what to do with their information about the pipeline failure and how to suppress the truth from the public, including plaintiffs and class members affected by the oil spill."

"Once the pipeline failed, the Canadian Tar Sands with toxins spread quickly through residents and affected a large area around Mayflower, including the plaintiffs' and class members' property. The Tar Sands migrated into a storm drain and by 3:09 p.m. was migrating toward Lake Conway. The Canadian Tar Sands released from the Pegasus Pipeline emitted dangerous and poisonous toxins into the air contaminating the air quality, making it difficult to breath and violating air quality standards for residents in the community forcing residents to evacuate their homes."

The families say Exxon deceived the public by reporting that the pipeline pumps had been shut down in 16 minutes, though in reality they were not shut down "for well over 98 minutes."

"The pipeline continued leaking for two days, contrary to information publicly provided by the defendants to the public and media. Defendant suppressed material facts about the Tar Sands spill, omitted significant material information provided to the public, and failed to provide full disclosure of relevant and material information," the families say.

They say the spill affected air quality, water sources, and consequently their health and property.

They seek punitive damages for strict liability, nuisance and negligence.

They are represented by Rob Pointer with the Duncan Firm, of Little Rock.

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