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Emails Reveal Exxon Intentionally Misled the Public over Arkansas Oil Spill

Jun 20, 2013

A lawsuit has been filed against Exxon due to a broken pipeline that spewed thousands of barrels—or, hundreds of thousands of gallons—of heavy crude oil into a Mayflower, Arkansas neighborhood on March 29. The Exxon Pegasus carries oil from southern Illinois to the Texas Gulf Coast.

The crude oil is described as diluted bitumen or tar sands oil, according to The spill made its way into a residential neighborhood and an area marsh before contaminating Lake Conway, which is known for its fishing. The lawsuit against Exxon was filed by the Department of Justice and the State of Arkansas.

The lawsuit seeks $1,100-$4,300 for each discharged barrel and $45,000 per day for the illegal storage of contaminated waste that was removed from the spill site, wrote. The Justice Department seeks civil penalties against Exxon under federal law and Arkansas also seeks civil penalties for alleged violations of state waste and pollution laws, as well as a judgment on Exxon's liability for spill-related damages.

Exxon emails show that it intentionally misled the public concerning the truth about the Lake Conway contamination, which may be why legal action has begun so quickly following the accident. “Government agencies usually wait much longer—sometimes even years—before filing lawsuits against companies involved in pipeline accidents,” writes David Hasemyer of InsideClimate News, according to "And this [the lawsuit] comes along three months after?" Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization, told "There's something at work here we simply don't know about."

Emails that Greenpeace obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that Exxon intentionally misled the public about Lake Conway’s contamination. In fact, emails between Arkansas’ Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Exxon reveal that Exxon attempted to pass press releases off with some bogus information, said For example, one draft of a release from April 8th includes the Exxon claim that “tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free.” Meanwhile, internal emails from April 6 indicate that Exxon actually knew about significant contamination across Lake Conway and the cove, due to the Pegasus spill.

When the chief of Arkansas’ Hazardous Waste division confronted Exxon with this information, Exxon made changes to the press release, but did not go so far as to state that oil was in Lake Conway, and that the lake’s contaminant levels were rising to dangerous levels, which was known at the time, according to Exxon continues to maintain that Lake Conway is “oil-free.”

Representative Ed Markey obtained documents revealing that Exxon used an unapproved emergency response plan for the Mayflower oil spill, according to The results: Soil, water, and air remain contaminated with toxins released during the spill, some residents are still ill and some wildlife did perish and was injured.

The New York Daily News previously pointed out that the historic Exxon Valdez oil spill that contaminated Alaska’s southern coast in 1989 involved about 260,000 barrels of crude oil. The Exxon Valdez cost about $2.5 billion on clean-up and $507 million in punitive damages.

In 2010, ExxonMobil was fined over not inspecting a different portion of the Pegasus line, which is 65 years old, on a regular basis, said the Daily News. Although ExxonMobil had publicly presented itself as having quickly communicated how it stopped 2010’s Yellowstone River oil spill in Montana, federal documents confirm it took Exxon twice as long as it said to completely seal off the damaged, burst pipeline that dumped about 1,500 barrels of oil in Montana and into the Yellowstone River. Recently, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed that ExxonMobil pay a $1.7 million fine over pipeline safety violations related to that 63,000-gallon Silvertip spill.

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