Exxon meets privately with oil spill victims, but makes no promises

Crews work to clean up oil in Mayflower, Ark., on Monday, April 1, 2013, days after a pipeline ruptured and spewed oil over lawns and roadways.
Crews work to clean up oil in Mayflower, Ark., on Monday, April 1, 2013, days after a pipeline ruptured and spewed oil over lawns and roadways.
AP Photo/Jeannie Nuss

As ExxonMobil, the EPA and state authorities work to detoxify Mayflower, Arkansas, Exxon representatives gathered privately Tuesday night with Mayflower residents affected by Friday’s pipeline burst. Speaking before 40-50 local residents in the cafeteria of Mayflower High School, energy company officials said the cleanup was proceeding, but were unable to say for certain when the affected area would be back to normal.

Exxon representatives “gave a little presentation about progress, and then they took the residents back to talk to them individually about claims and processes,” said Glen Hooks, a local Sierra Club activist. “It got a little heated in there last night. People were wondering when they could go home, wondering why they didn’t know there was this giant pipeline under their property.”

Hooks, whose property was not touched by the spill, said he was at first asked to leave by Exxon employees. After he refused to go, he was allowed to stay for the first part of the presentation. However, when Exxon later addressed specific claims from families and individuals who had been directly affected by the spill, Hooks was unable to attend.

Amber Bartlett, a Mayflower resident whose family was displaced by the pipeline burst, was able to attend both parts of the meeting. She said that the cleanup operation had divided the contaminated region into two parts, and that in phase one, people on the outlying region of the affected area could move back home earlier.

As someone whose home is in that region, Bartlett would be allowed to return to her home as early as this weekend. However, she said, “that doesn’t say that once they get into really digging all of this oil out of the contaminated houses, they won’t have to re-evacuate due to the air quality.”

As a result, she said, she and her family had elected to not return until the cleanup was completed. That would take “maybe a month, is kind of what they’re thinking,” she said. “I think that’s the best-case scenario, myself.”

The biggest safety concern in the area appears to be air quality. An ExxonMobil “Newsletter to the Mayflower Community” circulated at the meeting reads, “Continuous air quality monitoring is being conducted by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and ExxonMobil, and data will be provided to the Arkansas Department of Health.”

Property damage claims were discussed in the meeting, but ExxonMobil did not make any specific promises about compensation. “I think that’s fair for them to say it will be based on a per resident basis,” said Bartlett. Her family has opened a claim, and she said that before she returned to her home she “would like for a restoration company to come in and clean the carpets, the ducts, air vents, everything.”

While Bartlett said that Exxon has been “very accommodating,” covering food and housing expenses while her family is displaced, not everyone is satisfied with the company’s handling of the situation.

“There was a bunch of people there asking about their property value and how they’re never going to be able to sell their house,” Mayflower resident Joe Bradley told local news station THV11. “Their house is their biggest investment, and they really had no reply. Just ‘talk to the claims department,’ they said.”

“I’m willing to give them some time,” said Bartlett. “But we can’t wait forever.”

An ExxonMobil representative confirmed that the Tuesday night meeting had taken place, but declined to comment on what was discussed.