As the cleanup of a large oil spill continues in Mayflower, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel says the accident highlights the need for stricter pipeline standards.
On Wednesday, McDaniel and investigators from his office met with emergency officials and oil company representatives to walk through the site where the Pegasus Pipeline ruptured.
“That neighborhood was like a scene from The Walking Dead. There were still Easter decorations on homes, but there was not a soul in sight other than people in hazmat suits,” McDaniel told reporters afterward during a press conference at Mayflower City Hall.
The 22 homes there have been evacuated since Friday, when the pipeline ruptured, spewing thousands of barrels worth of heavy crude onto lawns and roads.
“I have seen the source of the leak and I came away with more questions than answers. How long was it leaking? How deep beneath the surface is the plume? What caused the rupture and many other questions?”
Tuesday night, McDaniel issued a subpoena for all records from pipeline owner ExxonMobil related to the spill, as his office looks into its cause and impact.
“I let it be known that I would be coming today with lawyers and with investigators and we were coming on behalf of the state," McDaniel said. "Many times they attempted to route me into a van and take me on a tour, and I tried to explain to them I’m not here for a tour and I’m not getting into a van.”
He suggested the oil company representatives were not taking his investigation seriously.
“We are here on behalf of the state of Arkansas as the state’s lawyer, as a constitutional officer empowered by the General Assembly to enforce our laws, and we were here to conduct an investigation, not take a tour. So I didn’t appreciate some of how we were treated, so I can only imagine how some of the homeowners must have felt,” McDaniel said.
About 600 workers have been brought in to Mayflower to clean up the oil, with heavy equipment in place throughout the town.
Earlier in the day, Republican Congressman Tim Griffin of Arkansas' 2nd district also came to the accident site. He said he believes the company is making good progress.
“From talking to the president of the pipeline part of Exxon, I believe that they are here to fix this,” Griffin said. “I’m sure that they would rather not have this happen and they’re here to fix it, and as [Faulkner County Judge] Alan Dodson and all of us have made clear, if we ever get the scent that they are not here for that reason then we’re going to fix it. We’re going to make sure that they are, but they’ve been very cooperative.”
ExxonMobil has apologized for the accident and says it will pay for the cleanup and all damage caused.
Griffin says using pipelines is the safest way to transport oil and has maintained his support for building the proposed Keystone Pipeline, which is under consideration by federal authorities in Washington, DC.
But McDaniel says this shows the need for increased standards in regulating pipelines.
“I’ve been told repeatedly that Exxon was up to date on their inspections and that their inspections showed no cause for concern,” McDaniel said. “But we have a pipeline that’s 65 years old that ruptured in someone’s yard, so either the inspections were not adequate or there was something that was completely beyond the ability to identify with an inspection, which I find very unlikely, which means we need to be very thoughtful about how we’re inspecting America’s aging subterranean energy transportation infrastructure.”