ExxonMobil has agreed to pay approximately $5 million to end a lawsuit over a 2013 pipeline rupture that coated an Arkansas town with 133,980 gallons of oil, the Environmental Protection agency announced Wednesday.
The lawsuit, brought by both the federal government and the state of Arkansas, accused ExxonMobil of violating clean water laws when its Pegasus Pipeline ruptured in March 2013, spilling approximately 134,000 gallons of Canadian tar sands crude oil into the small community of Mayflower. The lawsuit sought to prove that ExxonMobil engaged in gross negligence and willful misconduct in the events leading up to the spill.
If those claims were proven in trial, it could have been bad for Exxon. Under the maximum fines proposed by the lawsuit, ExxonMobil could have paid up to $4,300 per barrel of oil released — a maximum of $21.5 million — and up to $45,000 per day in civil penalties for violations since the spill.
But instead of continuing a trial which could have lasted years, Exxon entered into a consent decree, agreeing to pay just $3.19 million in federal civil penalties and $1 million in state civil penalties. The company also agreed to pay $600,000 for a project to improve water quality at the oil-affected Lake Conway, and $280,000 to the Arkansas Attorney General’s office for litigation costs.
“This settlement holds ExxonMobil accountable for this very serious oil spill and its disastrous impact on the Mayflower community and environment,” John C. Cruden, the assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Natural Resources Division, said in a statement, adding the settlement would “prevent future disasters by requiring better pipeline safety and response measures.”
In an e-mailed statement to ThinkProgress, Exxon spokesperson Christian Flathman apologized for the spill and said the company was working hard to reduce negative impacts.
“We regret that this incident occurred and apologize for the disruption and inconvenience that it caused,” he said. “ExxonMobil launched a rapid and effective response and worked closely with the U.S. EPA and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to ensure cleanup and restoration took place as quickly as possible.”
Since the now-infamous disaster in 2013, residents of Mayflower have struggled to cope with the impacts. Many residents reported suffering from dizziness, headaches, nausea and vomiting — classic symptoms of short-term exposure to the chemicals found in crude oil — up to five months after it occurred.
The lingering stench was apparently so bad that Exxon offered to buy out 62 homes in the area. The company even had to tear down a few houses and bought 20 more from affected residents.
The federal judge presiding over the case had already rejected some of Exxon’s arguments against the lawsuit. In one instance, Exxon had argued that Canadian tar sands oil should not be legally considered “hazardous waste.” U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker rejected that argument, as well as the company’s argument that the small bodies of water affected by the spill were too small to be covered under the Clean Water Act.
Wednesday’s consent decree isn’t the first time Exxon has had to pay fines for the 2013 spill. Federal pipeline safety regulators fined the company $2.6 million for violating pipeline safety rules and failing to notify regulators that that the pipe — built before 1970 — was susceptible to rupture. According to Flathman, Exxon has so far spent more than $91 million on cleanup activities in Mayflower.
Exxon is also not totally off the hook from lawsuits. As the Arkansas Times reported on Wednesday, the company still faces various lawsuits from private citizens seeking compensation for damages from the spill, plus lawsuits from state and federal agencies over damage to natural resources.