Contact: Eben Burnham-Snyder, Rep. Ed Markey, 202-225-2836

Slow Response, Type of Oil, Cleanup Fund Contributions Questioned

WASHINGTON (May 7, 2013) – Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) today questioned several claims made by ExxonMobil following their Mayflower, Arkansas pipeline spill in March that sullied a suburban neighborhood with thick Canadian tar sands oil—including the company’s claim that the tar sands oil isn’t even tar sands at all. In an extensive letter sent to Exxon’s top executive Rex Tillerson, Rep. Markey lays out several concerns about claims made by Exxon that are not supported by the evidence, including how fast Exxon actually responded to the spill and whether it was truthful about notifying local emergency officials.

“Exxon can’t whitewash the truth about this spill that left an entire neighborhood tarred by their spilled oil,” said Rep. Markey, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee. “The homeowners affected by this pipeline spill and the American public deserve to know what Exxon knows, when they knew it, and what they are doing to clean up this accident.”

In Rep. Markey’s letter to Tillerson, which can be found HERE, he notes three major inconsistencies between Exxon’s public claims and evidence gathered by Rep. Markey’s staff.

First, the Exxon response was slow, and did not fully and quickly involve local emergency officials. Even though Exxon claims on their website that it took 16 to 17.5 minutes to fully shut down the pipeline after receiving a low pressure alarm, multiple calls placed by Exxon employees to the National Response Center indicate that they were aware of the ruptured pipeline much earlier than their website reports. If so, it would mean that Exxon was aware of the rupture for 98 minutes or longer before they shut down the pipeline.

Both scenarios fly in the face of Exxon’s emergency response plan, which assumes in the “worst case” scenario that it would take just nine minutes to shut down a pipeline in the event of a spill. The Markey letter also highlights significant inconsistencies between Exxon's claims that it notified emergency officials when it was made aware of the spill, when in reality it appears that first responders in Mayflower were not aware of the spill until a resident called the police when she saw oil gushing throughout the neighborhood.

Second, Exxon appears to have obfuscated the real type of oil spilled in Mayflower. The company sent out a missive to Congressional offices and posted on their website a document entitled “Five lies they’re telling you about the Mayflower pipeline spill”, with the apparent purpose of making clear that the company believes that the oil spilled in Mayflower is conventionally-produced crude oil, not diluted bitumen, otherwise known as tar sands oil. Yet in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency on April 8th, Exxon says that types of oil are “subject to colloquial uses”, and admits that the oil is considered to be bitumen by the Canadian producers of the oil.

Finally, Rep. Markey questions whether Exxon is avoiding paying into an oil spill cleanup fund that is currently being used to help pay for costs associated with the Mayflower spill. Exxon’s attempt to avoid calling the spilled oil tar sands corresponds with an IRS decision to exempt tar sands oil from being taxed to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. In the same “five lies” document put forward by Exxon, the company claims that it will pay all cleanup costs, and that it is “not using the Oil Liability Trust Fund to pay for the cleanup. ExxonMobil is paying for the cleanup.” Yet as the letter notes, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund is currently being drawn down to help fund cleanup efforts in Mayflower, without a commitment from Exxon to reimburse the used funds.

“Exxon can’t claim that others are lying about this spill when their answers don’t hold up under scrutiny,” continued Rep. Markey. “It took decades before Exxon was held accountable for their Valdez spill in Alaska. The people of Mayflower, Arkansas and taxpayers everywhere deserve better treatment from the most profitable company in the world.”

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