LITTLE ROCK/HOUSTON — Arkansas on Tuesday launched an investigation into Exxon Mobil Corp's ruptured crude pipeline that released thousands of barrels of oil into a housing development last week, just as forecast rain was expected to complicate clean up efforts.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel asked Exxon to preserve all documents and information related to Friday's spill and ongoing recovery at the site in Mayflower, Arkansas, about 20 miles northeast of Little Rock.
"This incident has damaged private property and Arkansas's natural resources. Homeowners have been forced from their homes," McDaniel said in a statement.
Requesting that Exxon secure the documents is the "first step in determining what happened and preserving evidence for any future litigation," he said.
The spill from Exxon's 1,381 km Pegasus line, which covered lawns and snaked down residential streets, forced the evacuation of 22 homes as police blockaded the affected area. The strong smell of oil, which resembled asphalt, permeated the town far beyond the affected area, a Reuters witness reported on Monday.
The incident has received widespread attention and stoked a national debate about the safety of carrying rising volumes of heavy crude from Canada into the United States.
Some environmentalists have used the incident to illustrate why pipelines, such the proposed Keystone XL line that would carry Canadian crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast, should not be built.
Exxon spokeswoman Kim Jordan said the company will ``cooperate fully'' with any investigation.
Rain to complicate clean-up
The company was developing a plan to excavate, remove and replace the ruptured portion of the near 65-year-old line, which transports Canadian crude oil from Illinois to Texas. Excavation is crucial in determining the cause of a pipeline spill.
Meanwhile, rain, which is forecast for Tuesday afternoon and expected to remain on and off for at least two days, may complicate efforts to clean up the spill, which is not far from Lake Conway, a popular fish and wildlife area stocked with bass, catfish, bream and crappie.
Local responders that included firemen, city employees, county road crews and police built dikes of dirt and rock which stopped crude from fouling the lake, said Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson on Sunday.
Exxon later deployed 3,600 feet of boom near the lake as a precaution.
Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said that rain will not hamper clean-up efforts, but there was the potential for rain to carry some of the oil sheen towards the lake.
"Our big focus is to keep it from moving from the ground to the lake,'' Jeffers said.
The pipeline remained shut on Tuesday, and Exxon had yet to speculate on how long repairs would take and when the pipeline might restart.
Exxon said on Monday that a plan to allow residents to return to their homes was under development. In the meantime, Mayflower police were providing escorts for affected residents to briefly go to their homes to retrieve personal items.