Exxon Emails Reveal It Intentionally Misled the Public Over Pegasus Contamination

exxon_pegasus_spillFollowing a March 29 pipeline burst, Exxon is being sued. The Exxon Pegasus spewed thousands of barrels of heavy crude oil, which translates into hundreds of thousands of gallons, into the neighborhood of Mayflower, Arkansas. The Pegasus was carrying oil from southern Illinois to the Texas Gulf Coast.

The crude oil, described as diluted bitumen or tar sands oil, made its way into a residential neighborhood and an area marsh before contaminating Lake Conway, a known fishing spot, according to Treehugger.com.

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

Legal action has begun fairly quickly in this matter and that may have to do with some recently unearthed Exxon emails that reveal it intentionally misled the public concerning the truth about the Lake Conway contamination. “Government agencies usually wait much longer—sometimes even years—before filing lawsuits against companies involved in pipeline accidents, David Hasemyer, of InsideClimate News writes, according to Treehugger.com. “And this [the lawsuit] comes along three months after?” Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization told Treehugger.com. “There’s something at work here we simply don’t know about.”

Greenpeace-obtained Exxon emails, which it secured through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that Exxon intentionally misled the public about Lake Conway’s contamination. For example, emails between Arkansas’ Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Exxon show that Exxon tried to pass off press releases with false information, said Treehugger.com. In fact, an April 8th draft release contains the Exxon claim that, “Tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free.” Yet, internal emails from April 6th reveal that Exxon did know about significant contamination across Lake Conway and the cove caused by the Pegasus spill.

It took the chief of Arkansas’ Hazardous Waste division confronting Exxon with this information for Exxon to make changes to the press release; however, Exxon still would not admit that oil was in Lake Conway and that the lake’s contaminant levels were rising to dangerous levels. This was a known fact at the time, noted Treehugger.com. Exxon continues to maintain that Lake Conway is “oil-free.”

Representative Ed Markey also obtained documents that show that Exxon used an unapproved emergency response plan to respond to the Mayflower oil spill, according to Treehugger.com. Soil, water, and air remains contaminated with toxins from the spill; some residents are still ill; and some wildlife did perish and were injured.

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

In 2010, ExxonMobil was fined over neglecting to inspect a different portion of the 65-year-old Pegasus line on a regular basis, said the Daily News. While 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 spill dumped about 1,500 barrels of oil in Montana and into the Yellowstone River. Most recently, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed ExxonMobil pay a $1.7 million fine over pipeline safety violations related to that 63,000-gallon Silvertip spill.

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