Cleanup operations will continue for weeks and affected families haven't yet returned home, but officials in Arkansas already are planning to hold ExxonMobil accountable for last week's crude oil spill.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel opened an investigation Tuesday into the spill that has displaced nearly two dozen households in the small town of Mayflower, just north of Little Rock.
ExxonMobil's Pegasus pipeline, a 60-year-old system carrying the same type of Canadian crude oil that would be transported by the proposed Keystone XL project, burst Friday and has spilled thousands of barrels of fuel in the area. An intensive cleanup effort continues, but harm already has been done.
In a letter to ExxonMobil, Mr. McDaniel asked the company to preserve all documents, data compilations and other information related to the pipeline, its rupture, the subsequent spill and cleanup.
"This incident has damaged private property and Arkansas's natural resources. Homeowners have been forced from their homes as a result of this spill," he said. "Requesting that Exxon secure these documents and data is the first step in determining what happened and preserving evidence for any future litigation."
As officials look into the spill, environmental groups have begun to put the incident in a much larger context. They're arguing that the spill is yet another reason why President Obama should reject the proposed Keystone XL project, backed by business and labor groups and a growing bipartisan coalition in Congress.
The administration had appeared poised to green-light the massive Canada-to-Texas pipeline, but it's unclear whether the unfolding situation in Arkansas will have an effect on the ultimate decision. It's also not clear whether the Pegasus spill will affect public sentiment toward Keystone, which remains overwhelmingly positive, according to recent polling data.
Meanwhile, ExxonMobil Corp. has established the Mayflower Incident Unified Command Joint Information Center to coordinate company efforts and assistance provided by the local, state and federal governments. The company also has provided residents and the media with daily updates since the rupture.
On Tuesday, company officials said that "a plan is being developed" to return the 22 displaced families to their homes. The next step in that process is replacing any soil contaminated by oil, ExxonMobil said.
The company also plans to submit to the U.S. Department of Transportation a plan for "excavation and removal" of the affected portion of the pipeline.
A wildlife rehabilitation effort is also under way in Mayflower, where at least two ducks have been killed by oil. Other animals - 14 ducks, two turtles and one muskrat - are being treated, according to ExxonMobil.
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