A July 26, 2013 letter sent to Arkansas elected officials and representatives of Central Arkansas Water from Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. president Gary Pruessing suggests a commitment to more dialogue, but not to quick action as the pipeline company and local leaders exchange concerns in the aftermath of the Mayflower oil spill.

The letter was sent to Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman, Cong. Tim Griffin, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith, Pulaski Co. Judge Buddy Villines, and Marie-Bernarde Miller, who chairs the Central Arkansas Water (CAW) board of commissioners, in response to a July 19 letter sent from the group.

Pruessing says his company is working with federal officials and complying with the investigation into the March 29 oil pipeline rupture near Mayflower. Initial findings suggest the Pegasus pipeline burst was caused by a manufacturing defect, according to a report released by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), but elected officials and residents in the area of the disaster have been pushing for more public information related to the spill.

“We recognize this process is not as expedient as some would like but taking the time to get to the full root cause is essential for determining the correct path forward,” Pruessing writes. “While the investigation is on-going, it is PHMSA that defines the timing, type and amount of investigative information to share with appropriate stakeholders and the general public.”

A large portion of the letter addresses concerns about the Pegasus pipeline’s route through the Lake Maumelle watershed, which is the primary drinking water source for central Arkansas residents.

Pruessing outlines several action items his company has taken to address concerns raised about the potential for an accident in the watershed, but stopped well short of any commitment to move the pipeline as has been suggested by central Arkansas leaders. Pruessing noted:

  • His personal engagement with CAW representatives after the pipeline rupture;
  • A May 22 meeting to “express our commitment to address the CAW’s concerns”; and
  • On-going communication with CAW since May 22, including sharing aspects of the investigation and preliminary results.

“We have also committed to conducting a joint walk-through with CAW for the 13.5 miles of pipeline in the Maumelle Watershed within the next few months,” Pruessing wrote. “Additionally, we have been working with CAW to develop a mechanism to share appropriate pipeline integrity data pertaining to the Maumelle watershed, including test results as noted in your most recent letter, under a process that safeguards proprietary and confidential information.”

For those advocating a move of the pipeline out of the watershed, Pruessing’s letter suggests that won’t happen anytime soon, if at all.

“In the meantime, the Pegasus Pipeline is shut down, and we will not restart it until we are satisfied it is safe to do so and have the approval of PHMSA. The Pegasus Pipeline has been a safe and reliable pipeline with no major incidents in 64 years until the Mayflower breach. It would be premature to engage in discussions of significance until the investigation of the pipeline failure is complete,” Pruessing said.

U.S. Senator John Boozman (R) urged patience despite the frustration in the longevity of the process.

“We will continue to press for a transparent evaluation to ensure that the community gets honest answers to these important concerns in a timely manner. Certainly, frustration at the speed of evaluation is understandable, but these processes are in place to ensure our safety and that the evaluation is done thoroughly and nothing is missed,” said Boozman.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D) accused the company of “dodging our question.”

“It’s time for them to take action and move the pipeline out of the Maumelle watershed as we requested. The pipeline belongs to Exxon and the question of moving it requires a yes or no answer,” he said.

“The Pegasus pipeline that runs through a portion of the Lake Maumelle watershed should be relocated and the Obama administration and ExxonMobil should move faster in addressing our concerns,” said Cong. Tim Griffin (R). “Community leaders and the public are entitled to know the facts so that we can do everything in our power to make sure the drinking water for more than 400,000 Arkansans remains safe.”

Editor’s note: The Arkansas News Bureau contributed to this report.

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