Internal ExxonMobil documents obtained through an Freedom of Information Act request by Greenpeace shows that the oil giant misled the public about the degree to which the spill of more than 200,000 galllons of tar sands oil in Arkansas had contaminated local waterways.
Following the rupture of the Pegasus pipeline in the town of Mayflower on March 29, area residents were increasingly concerned that Lake Conway had been contaminated. Despite overwhelming evidence that tar sands oil was in the lake, ExxonMobil publicly said this was not the case.
A blog post by Greenpeace's Jesse Coleman explains:
A new batch of documents received by Greenpeace in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has revealed that Exxon downplayed the extent of the contamination caused by the ruptured pipeline. Records of emails between Arkansas’ DEQ and Exxon depict attempts by Exxon to pass off press releases with factually false information. In a draft press release dated April 8, Exxon claims “Tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free.” However, internal emails from April 6 show Exxon knew of significant contamination across Lake Conway and the cove resulting from the oil spill.
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When the chief of Arkansas Hazardous Waste division called Exxon out on this falsehood, Exxon amended the press release. However, they did not amend it to say that oil was in Lake Conway and contaminant levels in the lake were rising to dangerous levels, as they knew to be the case. Instead, they continue to claim that Lake Conway is “oil-free.” For the record, Exxon maintains that the “cove,” a section of Lake Conway that experienced heavy oiling from the spill, is not part of the actual lake. Exxon maintains this distinction in spite of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saying unequivocally “The cove is part of Lake Conway…The water is all part of one body of water.” Furthermore, Exxon water tests confirmed that levels of Benzene and other contaminants rose throughout the lake, not just in the cove area.
Though Exxon was eventually forced to redact their claim that the cove specifically was “oil-free,” the oil and gas giant has yet to publicly address the dangerous levels of Benzene and other contaminants their own tests have found in the body of Lake Conway. The Environmental Protection Agency and the American Petroleum Institute don’t agree on everything, but they do agree that the only safe level of Benzene, a cancer causing chemical found in oil, is zero. Benzene is added to tar sands oil to make it less viscous and flow more easily through pipelines. Local people have reported fish kills, chemical smells, nausea and headaches. Independent water tests have found a host of contaminants present in the lake.