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Arkansas residents seek millions after Exxon crude oil spill

Two Arkansas residents filed a class action lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Friday, demanding to be compensated for damages after a crude oil pipeline ruptured the week before in their subdivision outside Little Rock, Ark.

Kathryn Chunn and Kimla Greene, residents of Ledrick Circle, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of themselves and other affected residents and are seeking more than $5 million in damages. According to the 16-page document, which was posted on the Arkansas Times website Friday, homeowners within 3,000 feet of the pipeline were impacted by the spill that occurred in Mayflower, Ark., a suburb 20 miles from Little Rock.

Read the lawsuit (.pdf)

According to the lawsuit, 19,000 barrels were spilled in what the residents are calling the “worst spill in Arkansas history.” Exxon, however, says the equivalent of 5,000 crude oil barrels were spilled.

The lawsuit says the pipeline’s capacity was increased by 50 percent in 2009 and that the line was not adequately maintained or inspected. The 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline transports crude oil from Canada between Illinois and Texas.

Exxon has not responded to the lawsuit but said in an online statement that it is paying for the cleanup and "will honor all valid claims."

In an online briefing Saturday, the company said the spill mostly affected the yards of six homes. The company says the water supply has not been tainted. Exxon also pointed to air quality reports produced by the Environmental Protection Agency, which show an increase in carbon monoxide in some areas around the spill, but no increases in other emissions.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel launched an investigation last week into what caused the spill and the subsequent recovery efforts, and the investigation may be used as evidence for the plaintiffs. An Exxon spokeswoman told Reuters that the company will “cooperate fully” with any investigation.

Meantime, the 22 residents who were evacuated from their homes have not been able to return. State health authorities are still working on a plan for a safe return.

Mayflower, Ark., Chief of Police Bob Satkowski told Channel 7 News in Little Rock that those residents had to leave their homes because of health risks from the crude oil fumes and possible fires.

ExxonMobil initially downplayed environmental concerns, saying that the air quality didn't likely present a human health risk, “with the exception of high-pooling areas.”

EPA officials said the cleanup would be long and expensive, according to KARK. Exxon has since said it would pay for the cleanup.

The oil spill came at a bad time for crude oil public relations. Two days before the spill, Reuters reported that a train carrying crude oil derailed in Minnesota and spilled up to 30,000 gallons.

The week before, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration recommended fining Exxon Mobil Pipeline Company $1.7 million for how the company responded to a crude oil pipeline failure in the Yellowstone River in Montana.

The Mayflower, Ark. oil spill was more than 10 times more significant than the Montana spill, which leaked 1,509 barrels.

To put these numbers in perspective: The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill poured 260,000 to 750,000 gallons into Alaskan waters.

The 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill, the most significant oil spill in the U.S., leaked 4.9 million barrels into the Gulf Coast.