Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
As has often been said, "the cover-up is worse than the crime." Multinational corporate behemoth ExxonMobil is strong-arming the local media into not reporting on its Mayflower oil spill in Arkansas. Samuel Knight reports at the Political Animal blog,
The March 29 ExxonMobil oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas might not
come close to being the worst environmental disaster in recent American
history, but it does, nonetheless, warrant significant media attention.
The spilled substance, after all, is diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from
Alberta’s tar sands: the same gunk that will grace the Keystone XL
Pipeline if its construction is approved by the State Department. Dilbit
presents a unique challenge to clean up crews when efforts to transport
it go pear-shaped.
Unlike conventional oil, which floats to the surface when excreted into a body of water, dilbit is a peanut butter-like substance
that sinks. It’s like a high maintenance partner – stubborn, clingy,
and around long after you’re desperate to be left alone. A 2010 dilbit
spill in the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan, for example, is
taking years, not months, to clean and might have irreparably harmed the locals.
Yet if ExxonMobil has its way, the story, which has received a decent amount of coverage thus far, will die like baby fish in the post Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico.
The energy concern is actively seeking to quash reporting on its snafu
and is enlisting the help of state and federal officials to do it:
Local media in Mayflower have been hampered in their
reporting by a pliant county sheriff’s office who has been taking orders
from ExxonMobil about who can enter the site of the spill. A no-fly
zone was set up by the FAA after ExxonMobil requested it, and now news
organizations must ask for the oil giants’ permission before flying over
It’s fitting, in a profoundly depressing way, that a company slinging
an opaque and corrosive product is proverbially spilling oil all over
the narrative surrounding its unsolicited contribution to Central
But they aren’t the only ones who want Americans to view the oil
industry through rose-tinted glasses. Arkansas Attorney General McDaniel
contracted an “independent” investigation of the spill to a firm called
Witt O’Brien’s. And as Steve Horn of DeSmogBlog reported today, it has close ties to the industry and “a history of oil spill cover-ups.”
Witt O’Brien’s describes itself a “global leader in
preparedness, crisis management and disaster response and recovery with
the depth of experience and capability to provide services across the
crisis and disaster life cycle.”
But the firm’s actual performance record isn’t quite so
glowing. O’Brien’s has had its hands in the botched clean-up efforts of
almost every high-profile oil spill disaster in recent U.S. history,
including the Exxon Valdez spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the
Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and
Most troubling of all, Witt O’Brien’s won a “$300k+ contract
to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan
for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project” in Aug. 2008.
This sort of “nothing to see here” mentality has serious consequences in the policy arena.
The safety record up to now hasn’t been very good.
Last year alone, according to the Department of Transportation, there
were 364 spills that spewed about 54,000 barrels of oil and refined
products into these United States (any leak of more than five gallons is
classified as a spill).
* * *
One can’t help but think that they might be if the industry didn’t
strain itself to conceal the true cost of oil. Perhaps close-up
photography, and more independent reports and studies by local
journalists and academics would goad Arkansas residents into pressuring
their Senators into fighting ExxonMobil on this issue.
It’s hard to argue that evidence of the spill’s harm isn’t rather compelling.
But the industry giant is currently winning the PR battle by refusing to let the full story get out there.