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ExxonMobil: A Few Thousand Barrels of Oil Seen in Arkansas Spill Area

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Exxon Mobil Corp. said Saturday that it is working to clean up thousands of barrels of oil that spilled from its pipeline into a Mayflower, Ark., residential neighborhood Friday afternoon.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is categorizing the incident as a "major spill," the company said, which means that more than 250 barrels of oil have been released. Exxon said "a few thousand barrels of oil" have been observed in the area, but the company is staging a response worthy of a spill of more than 10,000 barrels "to be conservative."

Mayflower is in Faulkner County, about 25 miles outside of Little Rock, Ark. The city evacuated 22 homes Friday as oil flowed into yards and through the streets. Exxon said Saturday it had about 100 workers in the area and had deployed 2,000 feet of containment boom and had 15 vacuum trucks were at work cleaning up the oil Saturday afternoon. The company said it has recovered 4,500 barrels of oil and water.

On Saturday, Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson said the U.S. EPA has estimated that as much as 2,000 barrels have been released into the neighborhood, but so far, responders have been able to stop that oil from flowing into Lake Conway, a nearby 6,700-acre freshwater lake. Mr. Dodson said it looks like the cleanup effort might take several weeks. On Saturday crews were working to keep the oil contained even as rain pelted the earthen dams put in place to hold the oil back, he said.

"We're dealing with added water flow from the rain," Mr. Dodson said.

If the early estimates prove to be correct, the spill could be larger than a 2011 pipeline leak into the Yellowstone River in Montana. On Monday U.S. pipeline regulators proposed a $1.7 million fine against Exxon for allegedly not doing enough to prevent that leak of about 1,500 barrels of crude into the river after the pipeline ruptured during severe flooding. The regulators also proposed that Exxon employees be required to put in place a training program to teach employees how to react to emergencies at the company's pipelines. Exxon said it was disappointed in the regulators' findings, and that it has applied lessons learned from the Montana spill to its remote control valve procedures and operator training.

In a filing with the National Response Center Friday, Exxon reported that the amount of oil released was unknown, but told regulators that the "incident may be a significant material release."

Exxon said Friday evening that the pipeline, which carries oil from a hub in Patoka, Ill. to the Texas Gulf Coast, was shut in. The pipeline delivers oil to the Sunoco Logistics terminal in Nederland, Texas, where it is then shipped to various Houston area refiners, according to the Exxon Pipeline Co.'s website.

Ben Lefebvre contributed to this article.

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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