By Mica Rosenberg
(Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge has denied ExxonMobil Corp's bid to dismiss a government lawsuit and instead ordered the oil giant to hand over documents going back decades on a pipeline that ruptured last year and inundated an Arkansas town with oil.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker ruled on Tuesday the company must hand over requested information on the entire 850-mile (1,370-km) Pegasus pipeline, which spilled about 5,000 barrels of crude oil in a residential neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas, in March 2013.
She also said ExxonMobil should speed up the handover of documents sought by the state's attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice, which brought the case, and set a deadline of July 10.
The company had said it needed more time to go through millions of electronic and paper records to comply with requests from overlapping state and federal cases related to the spill.
"The court understands the defendants have a large amount of discovery to produce. However, providing defendants an unduly long period of time to complete that discovery raises the possibility of prejudice to plaintiffs," Baker wrote.
Exxon had argued it should only produce information going back to 2000, but Baker ordered the company release material dating back to 1988.
On Monday, Baker rejected the oil company's motion to drop the suit brought by the state and federal government.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel told Reuters the aim was to gather as much information as possible as the case heads toward trial.
About 22 homes in Mayflower were evacuated after the oil slick swamped the town and nearby wetlands, flowing into a lake and the Arkansas River, the state claims in the case.
Arkansas is seeking civil penalties from the company for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act as well as state laws, claiming the oil spill contaminated land and waterways and potentially harmed public health.
ExxonMobil had no comment on the order, which the company has yet to fully review, spokesman Aaron Stryk said in an email.
U.S. regulators said last year the leak in the nearly 70-year-old pipeline was likely caused by an original manufacturing defect. The 95,000-barrel-per-day pipeline is still shut down, Stryk said.
The case is USA et al v. ExxonMobil Pipeline Company et al in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Arkansas (Little Rock), No. 4:13-cv-00355-KGB
(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)