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Residents Say Spill Could Have Been Prevented

CONWAY, Ark. (CN) - The 2013 Exxon Mobil pipeline failure that released more than 200,000 gallons of tar sands oil into residential communities and waterways could have been prevented by adequate inspections, families claim in court.

Kenneth and Crystal Hobby et al. sued ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. and affiliates, and three of its maintenance and operations technicians, in Faulkner County Court.

The families say that after the rupture of the Pegasus Pipeline on March 29, 2013, "The oil gushed through lots and streets in the subdivision, into drainage ditches and storm sewers, into a stream, into wetlands, and into Lake Conway, a 6,700-acre lake created by the Arkansas Fish and Game Commission that is connected to several creeks and used for recreational and commercial fishing.

"The oil contaminated nearby real property, both commercial and residential, inside and outside the City of Mayflower, and contaminated streams, wetlands, Lake Conway, and other waters of the State of Arkansas with toxic and noxious substances, killing or injuring wildlife.

"The spilled tar sands oil released volatile organic chemicals and toxic hydrogen sulfides into the air, creating a noxious stench and sickening residents and business employees and customers in the Lake Conway and Mayflower community and exposing them to the carcinogen, benzene."

On top of health and safety concerns, the Mayflower residents say, emergency and cleanup crews barricaded streets, disrupted traffic and disturbed their way of life twenty-four hours a day shortly after the spill.

The plaintiffs say the rupture "was caused by 'hook cracks' in the weld seam, which developed during the operation of the line to the point that the pipeline split open and released thousands of gallons of tar sands oil before the flow was stopped."

The families say such cracks are preventable, and should have been discovered by the defendants, who failed to follow recommendations against increasing the flow of oil in the pipeline after pressure testing in 1989.

They say ExxonMobil reversed the flow of oil in the pipeline - which was built in 1947-48 - in 2006 and then performed a pressure test that "ruptured the pipeline in at least 12 locations."

Despite these failures in the pipeline, the families say, ExxonMobil not only proceeded with pumping oil, but actually increased pressure on the line to transport more gallons each day.

They claim that stress tests on the line in 2010 and again in February 2013 - just a month before the spill - were not "adequate to detect the presence of hook cracks or other anomalies known to be present in the pre-1970 ... pipe."

The families seek punitive damages for negligence, violations of the Arkansas Solid Waste Management Act, nuisance and trespass.

They claim pipelines owned by ExxonMobil "have caused more than $147 million in property damage and spilled thousands of barrels of hazardous materials, before this oil spill occurred."

The residents of Mayflower are represented by Jessica Carnes of Little Rock.

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