ExxonMobil must resume testing 130 residential wells in the Jacksonville area that were affected by a huge underground gasoline leak in 2006, according to a directive from the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The oil giant also has been told to resume deliveries of free bottled water to 126 households in the northern Baltimore County neighborhood. Both changes are contingent on a final MDE decision, expected by May 1.
The MDE order, conveyed to ExxonMobil in a letter dated Wednesday, follows a public rebuke of the agency by Gov. Martin O'Malley on March 3. He objected to the agency granting a request from the oil company that it be permitted to stop testing the private wells and providing bottled water to area residents.
O'Malley urged Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson to "expeditiously and carefully revisit" her agency's decision.
An MDE spokeswoman, Dawn Stoltzfus, said Friday that the wells at issue were being sampled only twice a year. "They were tested in December and their next scheduled test was for June," she said. "So while MDE is evaluating our decision, these homes will continue on the same schedule they were on, with the next scheduled test in June."
Stoltzfus said the water deliveries would resume next week, probably on Thursday.
Kevin M. Allexon, a spokesman for ExxonMobil, wrote in an e-mail that the company will comply with the MDE directive.
"As we've said throughout, we will continue to work under MDE's guidance and oversight in our cleanup, recovery and remediation activities," he wrote.
The wells that ExxonMobil sought to stop testing are all privately owned. Hundreds of other monitoring wells built by ExxonMobil are still being sampled for groundwater contamination. They were dug after the 26,000-gallon leak from a high-pressure pipe was discovered in February 2006.
"People in Jacksonville deserve to know for certain that the drinking water from their wells is safe long-term, and until that can be definitively known, it is only right that the company provide them with bottled water," Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said Friday.
Michael B. Snyder, a lawyer whose firm successfully sued ExxonMobil on behalf of 88 Jacksonville families affected by the spill, said it was "great news" to hear of the MDE's temporary policy reversal.
"Our clients, even to this day, fear using their contaminated well water," he said, "and instead use the bottled water supplied by Exxon for all purposes of daily living, such as drinking, brushing their teeth and cooking."