5 Ways ExxonMobil is Using its Power to Restrict Information in Mayflower Arkansas

Mayflower ArkansasExxonMobil set a scary new precedence last week in the wake of the oil spill in Mayflower, Ark. No, not their inability to prevent thousands of miles of corroding pipelines from spilling (although scary), and not the inability to control the damage after a spill has happened. We’re talking something even scarier. ExxonMobil has proven that it can take over sovereignty of an area with police-like control.

Exxon has proven its capability of acting like a sovereign government entity. They can stop the flow of free press, they can apparently issue citations to bystanders (in the form of fines), and they’ve even proved that they can control the skies. Even nearly a week after the spill, a significant lack of information, accusations of trespassing and various restrictions still abound. Here are 5 ways ExxonMobil has used their formidable force to control the area:

No Fly Zone
On April 1, a no-fly zone was instituted by ExxonMobil and the Federal Aviation Administration. While presumably to prevent accidents involving the company’s aircraft as they try to clean up the damage, it also serves another purpose—to unfairly restrict the information available to the public.

“The spill is now off-limits to journalists and independent observers who want to witness the devastation for themselves, at least from above. Exxon Mobil has put in a no-fly zone in association with the FAA, so anyone who wants to see the state of the land for themselves has to ask for permission first. Doesn’t sound quite right, does it?” reported HuffPost reporter Alyona Minkovski on April 4.

Removing ability to care for wildlife
ExxonMobil independently contracted with Wildlife Response Services to take over the wildlife care following the incident.

The organization is refusing the help of trained volunteers, even though they have many animals to care for. Many wonder about the source of the urgency and lack of information.

Helping Arkansas Wild “Kritters,” or the HAWK Center, is an organization dedicated to rescuing animals. Along with several residents and a representative from Arkansas Fish and Game, HAWK volunteers were the first responders to the accident.

Mayflower Arkansas2HAWK Center founder and manager Lynne Slater said Saturday, “It took ExxonMobil until Tuesday to bring in a paid contractor to respond to the incident. On Tuesday, the contractor took the animals away from us. Being told we couldn’t be involved was kind of a slap in the face. We were the ones who responded and are now being told that we can’t help at all.”

Slater understood that this is a massive undertaking, but she said she did not understand the urgency of taking the animals away from the trained volunteers at HAWK Center so quickly.

“We had a huge influx of oiled animals,” she said. “I understand why they took the animals off of our hands, but it felt kind of awkward. There has been very limited communication. Most oiled bird response teams tend to enlist the help of all local groups possible. I think they should be cooperating with local agencies, because they are clearly strained. If they were able to handle all the damage, I wouldn’t still be getting the calls that I am.”

Since having all the animals taken away from them, they have been posting updates on their Facebook page, www.hawkcenter.org, on the clean-up efforts.

Barring Journalist from entering the area
Reporters who accompanied Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on a tour of the spill on Wednesday were asked to leave by Exxon representatives, according to grist.org. Other media have reported similar difficulties gaining entrance and information at the Mayflower site.

Eilish Palmer, resident of Conway and volunteer with the HAWK Center, said Saturday, “They’re not letting anyone in there. They want to control the area and they are trying to control the PR. I think they look at everyone with a camera as an activist who is out to get them.”

waAccusations of Trespassing
Little Rock-based journalist Suzi Parker wrote on grist.org that “the company has instituted something like martial law.”

Palmer also said, “I have heard countless instances of people being on private property and Exxon authorities are still trying to make them leave, even if they have permission from the residents to be on the property. They are using local authorities to do so, saying that those people are trespassing or what-have-you.”

Palmer said that while she was out looking for animals she personally experienced hostility.

“A guy kind of gave me a hard time. I was on private property and looking for animals. I told him to let me do my job and I would let him do his,” she said. “When you get closer to the command center, there are definitely Exxon officials that are definitely keeping an eye on things.”

Lack of information
Parker wrote, “ExxonMobil officials have repeatedly said that they prevented any runoff into Lake Conway, a popular fishing and recreation spot. The company reports that it has placed barriers and 3,600 feet of boom around the lake. Aerial photos, however, show oil in marshes near the lake, and another photo shows dead vegetation in the lake.

Other photos show similar evidence.

According to Arkansasmatter.com, Mayflower resident Jennifer Jarrell said, “They haven’t told us this is restricted area for media [access]. They haven’t told us anything. And people should be able to talk. Last time I checked, we still live in America.”

All inquiries are being funnelled through Exxon, including a claims hotline. Responses are usually made within 24 hours on business days, according to a hotline representative.

Written by Laura Roller