Photo via Shutterstock
In March, Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured in the suburban town of Mayflower, Arkansas. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of bitumen from leaked into neighborhoods and waterways from a 22-foot gash, including the nearby Lake Conway. While Exxon promised that the heavy tar sands oil would not find its way into the lake, internal emails stated that the company lied about the extent of its pollution. In response, the Department of Justice and the state of Arkansas decided to sue Exxon earlier this month demanding $1,100-$4,300 for each barrel that made its way into the environment as well as $45,000 a day for violating state pollution storage laws.
Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Greenpeace provided proof that Exxon intentionally misled the public as to the contamination of Lake Conway. Correspondence between Arkansas’ Department of Environmental Quality and the company showed that Exxon knew that oil had polluted the lake even though the company issued press releases stating the contrary. Even when the chief of Arkansas Hazardous Waste confronted the oil giant as to the increasingly dangerous levels of toxins in the water, they maintained that the Lake was “oil-free”.
Generally, government bodies wait years before pursuing litigation, and some are wondering why federal and state officials are filing lawsuits before the full extend of damage has been determined. As of Thursday, June 13, a spokesman from Exxon stated that they have yet to be formally served with a complaint or review grievances. With such dishonesty and poor management of the cleanup efforts of the pipeline in addition to possible criminal negligence in its operation, more officials across the country are looking to the Mayflower spill as a warning against the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Now that concrete action has been taken against Exxon, activists are keeping a wary eye on the Obama Administration as it considers whether or not to approve the northern half of TransCanada’s project.