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Exxon could be fined $2.66 million for Arkansas oil spill

The fine, which Exxon is contesting, would amount to a little over 0.05% of last year's profits.
Emergency crews work to clean up an oil spill in front of evacuated homes on Starlite Road in Mayflower
Emergency crews work to clean up an oil spill in front of evacuated homes on Starlite Road in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013.

More than seven months after a ruptured Exxon Mobil pipeline dumped vast quantities of corrosive tar sands oil into the middle of a small Arkansas town, a federal regulatory agency has concluded that the energy company may be at fault. On Wednesday, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Transporation, issued a Notice of Probable Violation [PDF] proposing that the company be fined as punishment for allegedly violating federal safety regulations.

A statement from Exxon's public affairs department said the company is "disappointed" with the violation notice, adding that it appears to contain "some fundamental errors." Exxon faces about $2.66 million in fines -- that's a little more than 0.05% of the company's 2012 profits.

The PHMSA investigation was sparked by a pipeline rupture which first occurred on March 29 in the small town of Mayflower, Ark. In the immediate aftermath of the spill, authorities evacuated about 40 homes in the affected area. Others complained of chronic health problems months after the spill and the beginning of the subsequent cleanup.

Glenn Hooks, a local Sierra club activist, said the $2.66 million fine, while a "step in the right direction," would not be enough to penalize Exxon or fully compensate Mayflower residents. 

"That obviously is a pretty small fine considering that they make that much in about 30 minutes," Hooks told msnbc. "I'm not surprised that they're contesting it already. We said all along that Exxon needs to make the city of Mayflower whole again and its residents whole again."

A class action lawsuit against the company is still pending.