XOM Media Interview in Mayflower

Five lies they’re telling you about the Mayflower pipeline spill

I wrote yesterday about the regrettable spill by ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. in Mayflower, Arkansas. We have apologized to the people of Mayflower and all of Arkansas and will be there until the cleanup is complete.

What I thought I’d talk about today are the top five inaccuracies being spread by anti-fossil fuel activists seeking to capitalize on this unfortunate event.

Here are some of the whoppers they’re pushing out on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

1. ExxonMobil is using a loophole in the law to avoid paying for the cleanup

This bizarre charge is that ExxonMobil is relying on a law that exempts diluted bitumen from taxes that support the Oil Liability Trust Fund and thereby will avoid paying for the cleanup.

This is actually three lies in one.

Let me start by saying ExxonMobil will pay for the cleanup. Period. Full-stop.

The second inaccuracy here is that oil spilled in Mayflower is diluted bitumen from the Canadian oil sands. The crude that spilled is Wabasca heavy oil and it’s from Alberta near the area where there is oil sands production. It’s produced by conventional production methods – in other words by drilling a well into the ground through which the oil flows – and diluted by a light oil to help it flow through the pipeline.

There are two forms of oil sands production. The first involves mining and using a combination of heat, water and chemicals to remove the oil from the sand. The other is in-situ – which means in place – production and involves injecting steam underground to help heat the oil to flow it to the surface.

So, as a result of the fact that the crude that spilled in Mayflower is conventionally produced heavy oil, it is considered taxable under the Oil Liability Trust Fund.

And again, we’re not using the Oil Liability Trust Fund to pay for the cleanup. ExxonMobil is paying for the cleanup.

So to sum up – We’re paying for the cleanup. The oil is conventionally produced heavy crude. And it’s considered taxable.

2. ExxonMobil is barring access to the site

Depending on the website you visit, we’ve been accused of imposing martial law, practicing fascism and barring media from the spill site.

We don’t have the authority, ability or desire to restrict anyone’s access to any locations where the spill happened.

This photo is of Karen Tyrone, vice president of operations for ExxonMobil Pipeline Company, talking to media near the spill site earlier this week.

In fact, we’ve been assisting media to gain access to the site throughout the week by working with local authorities.

Police in Mayflower are honoring residents’ wishes to manage access to the site for their privacy and to ensure safety of the cleanup workers.

One activist who masquerades as a reporter even accused us of threatening to have her arrested. Also not true. The reporter was in an unauthorized area on private property and was asked politely to leave.

A quick Google search will turn up dozens of reports by local and national media from the site, proving these claims are really just attempts to demonize the company.

3. We’ve instituted a no-fly zone to prevent aerial photography

First cousin to the barring-media lie is the myth that we’ve instituted a no-fly zone to keep people from photographing the spill site from above.

Also just not true.

We asked the Federal Aviation Administration to take their standard safety precaution to ensure aircraft safety during an emergency response situation.

They’ve temporarily restricted flights lower than 1,000 feet to make sure that helicopters involved in the response don’t come into collision with other aircraft in the area. Media can ask to enter the temporary flight restriction area at any time. There’s no problem for anyone to take aerial photos of the area, as your Google search will attest.

4. Crude oil from the Canadian oil sands is inherently more corrosive than regular oil

This claim is being used in hopes of derailing the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, but it’s not true. The industry has shipped diluted bitumen, or dilbit, by pipeline safely for more than 40 years. There haven’t been any cases of pipeline releases of dilbit caused by internal corrosion in all that time.

Oil sands crude has the same chemical properties as other heavy crude oils from California, Mexico and Venezuela that have been successfully transported by pipeline in the U.S. for the last 40 years.

In fact, as I noted last November, researchers at the Canadian government’s leading national research university have concluded that the dilbit samples they tested were actually less corrosive than several of the other heavy oils they studied.

5. We shouldn’t use pipelines because they are inherently unsafe

The truth is that pipelines are the safest way to transport oil and gas, which are vital to our economy. According to the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, accidents are 1,000 times more likely to occur with a large truck, 13 times more likely to occur by barge, and five times more likely to occur by rail than they are on a pipeline. Saying we shouldn’t use pipelines is like saying the economy shouldn’t use oil and natural gas, which currently accounts for more than 60 percent of U.S. energy demand. It’s not a serious argument.

The incident in Arkansas, however, is serious.

And that’s why the public discussion about what is going on with the Mayflower spill should be informed by facts and not myths, inaccuracies and outright falsehoods.

For our part, ExxonMobil is committed to providing regular updates and information about ongoing cleanup efforts through the Unified Command, which is responding to the spill.

The Unified Command includes federal, state and local county authorities and attests to the accuracy of updates from its Joint Information Center, which you can find on our website.


14 Comments

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  1. Jeffrey Sims says:

    Very informative and well written. Thank you for the information.

  2. Ryan Lewis says:

    In response to points 5 and 6, not all studies on bitumen or pipeline safety have been as conclusive add you would have your readers believe. You appear to be carefully choosing your data points to spin the story.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=tar-sand-oil-and-pipeline-spill-risk

    • Kent Berry says:

      Ryan, I took the time to read your aforementioned link. I would think that an organization with a name as impressive as “scientific america dot com” would be more accurate with their facts. The article stated as fact that the oil spilled in Mayflower was diluted bitumen when it was in fact Alberta heavy crude. This renders most of the article irrelevant to the Mayflower incident. (Although the article did reference the 28 page Alberta Innovates Study of Sept. 2011 which seems to me to conclude that diluted bitumen is NOT inherently more corrosive at pipeline temperatures and pressures) The article also stated, in the last sentence, that there have been 14 such spills since 2010 and cited as source a PDF. I read the PDF. It referred to two separate spills with a grand total of 410 barrels spilled. As a lay person with a vested interest, Mayflower, it seems clear to me that Mr. Cohen was correct when he used a heavy word to describe some people’s words. He said they were LIES. I regret that I must concur.

    • Ken Cohen says:

      Ryan, I read the article you cited. None of the claims in the article about diluted bitumen being worse for pipelines is substantiated by research. In fact, the only study mentioned is one from the Alberta government which, as the article notes, “casts doubt on the notion that dilbit is worse for pipelines than any other oil is.” That would seem to confirm the points I made in my post.

      Other research backs up that notion. I would direct your attention to comprehensive studies from the Battelle Memorial Institute and Penspen Integrity showing dilbit is no more corrosive than other crude oils.

      The thing about physical characteristics such as corrosion or temperature is that you can’t just make them true by repeating them. They can be researched and, in the case of oil sands crude characteristics, the research disproves the critics cited in the story.

      Another issue I have with the story is that it incorrectly implies the crude spilled in Mayflower was from oil sands production. The oil was conventionally produced heavy oil, which the U.S. pipeline system has been transporting – along with dilbit – for more than 40 years. Government records show no pipeline releases of diluted bitumen caused by internal corrosion.

  3. Luke Smith says:

    It’s interesting to find out (I didn’t know either way) that crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands is comparable in composition to conventionally-produced crude oil. I did a bunch of research on U.S. oil shale in grad school, and one of the things I found striking was how both the Eocene Green River Formation in CO/WY/UT and the Miss/Dev/etc. Chattanooga, etc. Formations in the East U.S. commonly ran higher in heavy metals than most conventional-source crudes, most notably the element Nickel with its potential to poison hydrocracking catalysts.

    On the point of the protestors, they remind me of nothing so much as a young lady (liberal arts degree holder) I met in my early twenties, while I was between my undergrad and grad school days. She and I hit it off, up until she found out I worked in the oil industry. Meanwhile, she had DRIVEN to the social event at which we met. There must be environmentalists out there with hard-science/engineering degrees, but I’ve never met one.

  4. Mike Borland says:

    I find it disappointing that you chose to be misleading when writing about alleged “Lies” #2 and 3. I spoke directly with a respected reporter, not an activist in any way, shape or form, who was told Exxon didn’t want reporters to go on a tour with the Attorney General and was threatened with arrest if he didn’t leave in 10 seconds.
    Who is demonizing who?
    The flight restrictions? An FAA spokesman says Exxon needs to be contacted for permission to fly over the area.
    Makes me wonder about the debunking of the other “Lies”.

    Mike Borland
    President, National Press Photographers Association

  5. Keith Turrill says:

    I found the comments from NPR affiliate KUAR in Little Rock about being threatened with arrest to be more convincing than the Exxon commentary above. As to the issue of Lisa Song from ICN it appears that her credentials are worthy of any news operation in the country. I don’t recall the Exxon Mobil company being in a position to say who is and is not a journalist. As to the issue of lies I suspect that Mr. Cohen has a few fibs of is own.

    • Kevin Clarke says:

      We also seem to playing fast and loose here with the reference to the specific nature of Wabasca heavy oil and the precise meanings of conventional and dilbit. WH is classified as “heavy sour dilbit” in Canada and however it is extracted its source is Alberta tar sands, hence it is tar sands oil, no? What’s important here is the carcinogenic threat from the oil. The game playing over what to call it seems related to other future concerns.

      Plus there may be more “accidents” via rail, but they are measured in gallons not barrels. Per Bloomberg rail is responsible for some 90k s spilled over the last ten years (but 80k gallons of it came from one particularly bad incident); pipelines spilled over 2.3 million gallons in 2012 alone. Only fair to note they carry substantially more oil than rail.

    • Cairenn Day says:

      I doubt that any office would allow a reporter in a critical area during a crisis. Reporters have to obey the law.

      • Gary Speed says:

        Local law enforcement agencies usually facilitate media coverage in a safe manner without just running interference to hide things for a large oil company. Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson and the local law enforcement officials (many of whom were also moonlighting as private security guards paid by XOM), affirmatively tried to keep the news media away from the visuals of oil-soaked wildlife to manage the story. This would have been handled much differently if it had been tornado damage rather than an environmental disaster caused by a large oil company. The politics of tar sands oil and interstate transportation of hazardous materials through pipelines definitely created a different situation here. The news media was not trying to do anything illegal, just report the facts that XOM was trying to hide.

    • Gary Speed says:

      …Oh, and by the way, Lisa Song was a member of the three-member investigative journalism team of Inside Climate News that won the Pulitizer Prize this year for national reporting for their coverage of the Enbridge dilbit spill in Michigan. I can understand why XOM wouldn’t want to cooperate with her…

  6. Laurie Jensen says:

    Excellent response. There is so much misinformation out there and it is refreshing to see this kind of response.

  7. Jeffrey Sims says:

    Very informative and well written. Thank you for the information.

  8. Ryan Lewis says:

    In response to points 5 and 6, not all studies on bitumen or pipeline safety have been as conclusive add you would have your readers believe. You appear to be carefully choosing your data points to spin the story.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=tar-sand-oil-and-pipeline-spill-risk

    • Kent Berry says:

      Ryan, I took the time to read your aforementioned link. I would think that an organization with a name as impressive as “scientific america dot com” would be more accurate with their facts. The article stated as fact that the oil spilled in Mayflower was diluted bitumen when it was in fact Alberta heavy crude. This renders most of the article irrelevant to the Mayflower incident. (Although the article did reference the 28 page Alberta Innovates Study of Sept. 2011 which seems to me to conclude that diluted bitumen is NOT inherently more corrosive at pipeline temperatures and pressures) The article also stated, in the last sentence, that there have been 14 such spills since 2010 and cited as source a PDF. I read the PDF. It referred to two separate spills with a grand total of 410 barrels spilled. As a lay person with a vested interest, Mayflower, it seems clear to me that Mr. Cohen was correct when he used a heavy word to describe some people’s words. He said they were LIES. I regret that I must concur.

    • Ken Cohen says:

      Ryan, I read the article you cited. None of the claims in the article about diluted bitumen being worse for pipelines is substantiated by research. In fact, the only study mentioned is one from the Alberta government which, as the article notes, “casts doubt on the notion that dilbit is worse for pipelines than any other oil is.” That would seem to confirm the points I made in my post.

      Other research backs up that notion. I would direct your attention to comprehensive studies from the Battelle Memorial Institute and Penspen Integrity showing dilbit is no more corrosive than other crude oils.

      The thing about physical characteristics such as corrosion or temperature is that you can’t just make them true by repeating them. They can be researched and, in the case of oil sands crude characteristics, the research disproves the critics cited in the story.

      Another issue I have with the story is that it incorrectly implies the crude spilled in Mayflower was from oil sands production. The oil was conventionally produced heavy oil, which the U.S. pipeline system has been transporting – along with dilbit – for more than 40 years. Government records show no pipeline releases of diluted bitumen caused by internal corrosion.

  9. Luke Smith says:

    It’s interesting to find out (I didn’t know either way) that crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands is comparable in composition to conventionally-produced crude oil. I did a bunch of research on U.S. oil shale in grad school, and one of the things I found striking was how both the Eocene Green River Formation in CO/WY/UT and the Miss/Dev/etc. Chattanooga, etc. Formations in the East U.S. commonly ran higher in heavy metals than most conventional-source crudes, most notably the element Nickel with its potential to poison hydrocracking catalysts.

    On the point of the protestors, they remind me of nothing so much as a young lady (liberal arts degree holder) I met in my early twenties, while I was between my undergrad and grad school days. She and I hit it off, up until she found out I worked in the oil industry. Meanwhile, she had DRIVEN to the social event at which we met. There must be environmentalists out there with hard-science/engineering degrees, but I’ve never met one.