By Hwaa Irfan
For the people and the environment affected the ExxonMobil pipeline that burst Friday 01st July 2011, spilling gallons of black crude oil into the Yellowstone River, adding to the thousands of Americans being forced out of their homes from the Mississippi River deserve much more than sympathy, donations and compensation. It may even be inappropriate to say, but it must be said, and that is the high price we pay when those in authority convince themselves and everyone else that man can control the natural laws that govern our environment without knowledge, and understanding of those Laws.
It so happened that the pipeline burst happened on the day of the New Moon partial Solar Eclipse of 01st July 2011 in the constellation of Cancer, emphasizing the relationship between individuality, Divine Will, and the Universe which is constructed to run in a symphonic harmony, representing kinship, transforming from old patterns into the new as a process of becoming, which means putting out the fire with which we scorch the earth with and our lives.
When one has been tossed and turned by the endless natural and man-made disasters that seem to be governing a country right now, along with an economic disaster which is still building momentum, all prayers are needed, and amidst those prayers an increased understanding of a better way of life that is other than the accustomed lifestyles of developed countries.
Yellowstone has been inhabited by humans for over 10,000 years. The name “Yellowstone” comes from the less known indigenous American tribe, the Minnetaree, which called the area “Mi-tsi-a-da-zi,” which means “Rock Yellow River.” French fur trappers translated this to “Yellow Rock” or “Yellow Stone.” Hence Yellowstone was named.
Acknowledgement that the area needed to be protected predates the establishment of the Park by one year (1871), when the expedition of Ferdinand Hayden convinced Congress of his findings.
In 1872, the Yellowstone National Park was established, named after the river which flows through banks of yellow rock cliffs. It is a natural forest that covers 9,000 sq km. For instance, in the foothills of the Gallatin Mountain Range on the west and the Absaroka Mountain Range one find a delicate mountain meadow of sagebrush, grasslands and cottonwood that needs the water of the river, as well as juniper against the backdrop of rockslides of sandstone , shale and limestone, referred to as ‘Devil’s Slide’. It is an area where the pronghorn antelope, the bison, the bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, and other wild life choose to live and graze, along with the bald and golden eagle, the trumpeter swan, peregrine falcon, the pygmy owl, the osprey, and the grizzly bear and grey wolf.
To this day, Yellowstone is still a vast wilderness, where to some extent nature dominates, but the Cheyenne indigenous Americans worry about the invasive weeds that threaten indigenous plants that have cultural and medicinal significance.
Geologists have referred to Yellowstone as a supervolcano. With 300 roaring geysers that send plumes into the sky, and a bubbling cauldron of molten fire beneath the National Park.
Half of the routes through Yellowstone National Park have been closed to visitors since late 2003, because the ground temperature was become increasingly intolerable. The heat and the acidic ground water have become so intensive that it is re-shaping the land, by dissolving parts of the routes at 200°F, away from the normal 80°F. Five dead bison were found near one of the hottest geysers in 2004. Called the Norris Geyser, it was found that the bison had died from inhalation of CO2 and H2S gases.
The earth tremors in Yellowstone have been getting stronger since 2003, a year which experienced 15 small tremors, and 3 small earthquakes for example along with increased activity of the geysers, and magma rising to near the surface. Covering such a wide area, the effect of the increased ground thermal temperature has led to drought affecting most of mineral rich Montana leaving empty natural reservoirs, and little moisture in the soil. This affects the U.S. as a whole as 62% of U.S. farmlands are in Montana with wheat as the main crop.
In January 2009, geologist Christopher C. Sanders warned:
“I am advising all State officials around Yellowstone National Park for a potential State of Emergency. In the last week over 252 earthquakes have been observed by the USGS. We have a 3D view on the movement of magma rising underground. We have all of the pre warning signs of a major eruption from a super volcano. – I want everyone to leave Yellowstone National Park and for 200 miles around the volcano caldera.”
Activity increased not long after the 2010 January Haiti earthquake, with 1,620 tremors (3.8 Richter scale) between January 17th and February 01st that same year.
The Yellowstone is sacred to many indigenous American tribes, including the Shoshone. It is a land that several tribes have expressed concerned about from the point of view of:
a) Pollution from wastewater from treatment facilities, and the
b) Cultural spiritual separation that arise with each generation as a result of colonialism.
That land is a part of the original homeland of the Shoshone, which was written into a treaty with them. Member of the Council of the Spiritual Elders of Mother Earth, Bennie LeBeau made the importance and the predicament of Yellowstone known as follows:
“. Since September of 1999, we have been attempting to gain permission for our most sacred ceremony the Sundance and other ceremonies to be allowed in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone Park, along with many other Indigenous Nations of this country. The park officials and the general public are beginning to see the significance of why it is needed. Now it is most evident because of the seismic volcanic activity in and around the Grand Teton and the Yellowstone National Parks. What we have helped escalate as humans is the disturbance to the web of life on earth in these sacred site areas. Remembering the words from the past by a powerful messenger, Chief Seattle stated, “Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of earth…the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth…all things are connected…man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it…whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
“On October 22, 2003 a message stated in July that the Yellowstone Park rangers closed the entire Norris Geyer Basin because of the deformation of the land and the excess temperature. There is an area there that is 28 miles long and 7 miles wide that has bulged upward over five inches since 1996. This year the ground temperature on that budge has reached over 200 degrees. There was no choice but to close off the whole area. Everything in that area is dying. The trees, flowers, and grasses resemble a dead zone and are spreading outward. The animals are literally migrating out of the park. This isn’t hearsay. It is coming from people who have actually visited the park in the last few weeks. The later part of July, one of the park geologists discovered a huge bulge at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake. The bulge has already risen over 100 feet from the bottom of the lake. The water temperature at the surface of the bulge has reached 88 degrees and is still rising.
“Keep in mind that Yellowstone Lake is a high mountain lake with a very cold-water temperature. The lake is now closed to the public. It is filled with dead fish floating everywhere. The same is true of the Yellowstone River and most of the steams in the park. Dead and dying fish are filling the water everywhere. Many picnic areas in the park have been closed and people that are visiting the park don’t stay but a few hours or a day or two and leave. The stench of sulfur is so strong that they literally can’t stand the smell. Yellowstone is what geologists call a “super volcano”. There are massive calderas of molten fire beneath Yellowstone National Park. Geologists are saying that every living thing within six hundred miles could be affected in devastation. It could produce an ash cloud that will cover the entire western U.S. clear to the Pacific on the west, British Columbia on the north, the Mexican border on the south, and then out into the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas on the east. Then the cloud could blow east because of the prevailing winds, literally covering the entire nation with volcanic ash.
“I believe this to be of great importance to us at this time. The vision is to pray for balance in this area. With our prayers, songs, drums and the ways that we have been instructed in our spiritual teachings, no matter what culture you/we are our hearts make the difference.
“If Yellowstone National Park seismic activity continues then we could all be affected around the earth.. The reports on the seismic activity speak for themselves. The 100 years of government management in the Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons have disallowed our most important prayers and ceremonies to exist as all indigenous tribes in this country. It is now time for us to act as a nation/world within all countries to allow these sacred prayers and ceremonies into the National Parks of Wyoming. Joseph (Hinmaton Yalatkit) 1830-1904, Nez Perce Chief, said, “Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other, then we will have no more wars. We shall all be alike-brothers of one father and one mother, with one sky above us and one county around us, and one government for all.
“Uniting our tribes of all cultures from the peaks in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone I send a strong-hearted message to you to awaken and respond now. These sacred site areas are calling out to her caretakers all over the world. Now is the time for uniting together and working in harmony. Together our songs, our drums and our prayers speak the ancient language that exits and are remembered in the sacred pictures written on the rocks, in the sacred heartbeat of the land and in the sacred songs heard in the wind.
We can bring balance and harmony back to the land remembered by our ancestors of the past, present and future generations. Our mother is calling out to her caretakers. This is a great opportunity for prayer work in our councils and other groups helping bring the indigenous nations together and with all nations as well…”
To the Crow and Northern Cheyenne indigenous Americans, the Yellowstone River is known as the “Elk River” after the large elk population. Yellowstone River is 692 miles (1,114 km) long. It is a main tributary of the Missouri River which serves to drain a wide area that stretched from the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, South Montana, and North Wyoming. The River is all important to those who need it, and use:
“It is a symbol of nature and a symbol of godliness….It is at the river that I best understand my role as a human being on this planet. I am part of nature, as you are and we all are. When you stand by the river you have a tendency to realize that. (Yellowstone County Recreationalist).”
You’re dealing with a raw force of nature.…This river,…it won’t tell its secrets….You turn those rocks over.…You find those nymphs.…You watch the river year round….You put it all together and after three or four years of study, the river might just give you a trout or two…but…by then it becomes not a matter of catching fish. It becomes a matter of you’re…one with the river….It has a different character around every bend….It acts different in the spring than it does in late summer. It’s different in the winter. It’s an incredibly complex ecosystem, that if one person in their lifetime can figure out a little bit of it, it’s quite an accomplishment and that’s what transcends the actual fishing. (Park County Recreationalist)
It is a belief system. It is not something you can look at scientifically. It is so important that it is part of our religious belief. You can’t separate it [water] into farming, etcetera; it goes way beyond. You can’t separate the importance of water in our belief system. It is who we are and you can’t separate that. The western world is very segmented…[but from] the holistic view…you can’t have a coherent system broken into parts. (Northern Cheyenne)
I [am concerned about] pollution [in the river], because it is our water source. You know we need to protect our rivers. If there is an industry that comes in, you can’t let…[the river] be polluted. (Dawson County Residentialist)
We should figure out a way to replicate whatever the river flow was at that time, [Lewis and Clark’s time]. So, it should go up in the spring and down in the summer. Whatever it takes to maintain that flow—let the cards fall where they may….Whoever gets the water, gets the water. You don’t artificially give more water to one person because you hold back water [behind a] dam.…Obviously, it has implications for energy generation, and recreation, and floating barges downstream,…but I think that is the only fair way to do it. (Dawson County Residentialist)
We have noticed a real change in the cottonwoods. They have almost been non-existent, more so than other species of trees in other areas. That means we don’t have a good riparian area and that might be another cause of erosion. Not only erosion but the introduction of other species of plants like noxious weeds [is a problem]. The weeds, are opportunists and that is an area where they can survive. (Northern Cheyenne)
The Oil Spill
The pipeline runs 6ft below the Yellowstone River from Silver Tip to Billings in Montana, at a time the river has become turbulent, swollen and overflowing its yellow banks. The ruptured pipeline occurred at a time when the river had become swollen, and is overflowing the banks.
A town of 6,500 people, called Laurel, spilling 750 to 1,000 barrels of oil (42 gallons) before the pipeline was shutdown half an hour later according to ExxonMobil. Only 140 people have been evacuated to date (Saturday 02 July 2011), who were allowed to return once the fumes from the leak had dissipated.
For fear of an explosion, officials in Laurel evacuated about 140 people on Saturday shortly after midnight, and then they were permitted to return at 4 am once tests showed fumes from the leaked oil had dissipated, and the pipeline was shutdown. Sheets were placed along the banks to prevent leakage into the river, and water has been tested for safety. ExxonMobil clean-up crew, and the EPA, Denver, have been involved in the clean-up. The Montana state Department of Environmental Quality and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks have been monitoring the clean-up.
Protecting their image, ExxonMobil is seems to have the situation under control, but the reality might be very different considering the build-up of pressure in the pipeline concerned dates back to 1991. According to ExxonMobil, the problem is contained with a 10-mile area, but what can truly be detected from the air, given the level of turbulence in the river. Governor Brian Schweitzer who is more familiar with the nature of the river, questioned ExxonMobil’s statement when he told Reuters:
“This is a lot of wild country, and they haven’t any idea whether it’s five miles, 50 miles or 100 miles, they’re guessing.”
Not only that, contradictory reports from ExxonMobil complicates the picture, as in their statement one is informed that the pipeline was shutdown within 6 minutes, while another report from company spokesperson, Pam Malek states approximately half-an-hour. This is confirmed by Brent Peters, the fire chief for the city of Laurel who also said the pipeline was shutdown half-an-hour later. Given the turbulence of Yellowstone River, 24 minutes difference is a big deal!
Added to which, on what basis the pipeline was kept open when the river is flooding, when earlier this year EMPCo, a ExxonMobil pipeline company shut the pipeline down in May 2011 when the river was overflowing then! Even the head of EMPCo, Gary Pruessing told a news conference that:
“I’ve never seen the river like this in my life.”
Does this not give some clear indication that the condition of the river was worse than when EMPCo shut the pipeline down in May 2011! Pipeline safety was addressed by the U.S. department of transportation in July 2010, sending ExxonMobil a warning to take precautions against corrosion, and update emergency plans. A second warning was given in February, and in March ExxonMobil said they had addressed those concerns.
The irony is that the pipeline ruptured the day after a plaintiff won an award of U.S$1.5bn against ExxonMobil for damaged caused by a leak from a gasoline station in 2006. A small price to pay given the record breaking U.S.$10bn in profits ExxonMobil made in the last quarter along of 2007!
ExxonMobil is the world’s largest integrated oil company ( oil and gas exploration, production, supply, transportation, and marketing). It proclaims on its website:
“We operate facilities and market products around the world, and explore for natural gas and oil on six continents. We lead the industry almost in every aspect of the energy and petrochemical industry.”
Despite this status, ExxonMobil does not have a very good reputation when it comes to taking responsibility for its environmental disasters. If what ExxonMobil does can be encapsulated into one sentence the words of Attorney General Cuomo who took litigation against ExxonMobil and others in 2007 for the disaster of Newton Creek would be appropriate:
“ExxonMobil has proven itself far less than a model corporate citizen, placing its greed for windfall profits over public safety and the well-being of the environment.”
The Exxon-Valdez oil spill of 1989 involved the release of 10.8mn gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, and covered 11,000 miles of ocean. The oil was being transported by ship from Valdez to California. The ship was on auto-pilot when it hit Bligh Reef in March 1989. Clean-up did not begin until April 1989, and a complete clean-up still has not been done. 250,000 sea birds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 orcas, and billions of salmon and herring eggs were killed immediately after the spill, and sea otters have not returned to their habitat.
As usual, ExxonMobil issued a statement, and made its apologies and were fined U.S.$150mn, but paid U.S$125mn. Another U.S.$100mn was paid for restitution of damage caused to the wildlife and the land, and agreed to pay U.S.$900mn in 10 instalments over 10 years to civil claimants. Exxon was then found to be reckless in 1994, and was asked to pay U.S.$5bn to the victims. This amount of course did not transpire as an appeal reduced the fine by 50%, then the U.S. Supreme Court reduced it further to U.S.$507.5mn in 2008. However, to date, the plaintiffs still have not seen that money! The Corporate Act allows the company to be forgiven leaving the surviving victims, and the environment to pay the price! Why not, ExxonMobil greases the palms of the 111th Congressional Representatives of Oil, an example of which is the U.S.$553,950 given in 2009-2010.
It is clearly established now that the occupation of Iraq was and is about oil. After inserting a puppet government that would act in the interest of the U.S., former president G.W. Bush Jnr, pushed through oil legislation that would secure Iraqi oil for the U.S. in 2007. Antonia Juhasz who wrote the “Bush Agenda” in the New York Times stated:
“The Iraq National Oil Company would have exclusive control of just 17 of Iraq’s 80 known oil fields, leaving two-thirds of known—and all of its as yet undiscovered—fields open to foreign control,” Juhasz wrote. “The foreign companies would not have to invest their earnings in the Iraqi economy, partner with Iraqi companies, hire Iraqi workers or share new technologies. . . The international oil companies could also be offered some of the most corporate-friendly contracts in the world.”
In other words, Iraq would be paying for its own rip-off by excluding Iraqis from the decision making process, and the benefits. True to form, Shell (20%) and ExxonMobil (80%) won the deal to ‘develop’ Iraq’s West Qurna oilfields in Basra – the world’s most prized untapped oil reserve. To detail the way and extent ExxonMobil has operated in Iraq is too much to tolerate right now, but there is no greater modern day example of war-profiteering as the questionable financial status of ExxonMobil before the war, was no longer questionable after the war. Basically, the occupation of Iraq made ExxonMobil what it is today.
ExxonMobil has the largest stake in Nigerian oil fields. Oils spills from ExxonMobil operations were ongoing to the extent they were devastating and impoverishing communities. Nigerian officials did not think highly of ExxonMobil’s clean-up operation after an oil spill of 300 barrels of crude oil from the offshore platform in Southeast Akwa Ibom State. In fact refuted the claims made against them.
The officials are unhappy with the company’s attempt to clean up a recent spill of about 300 barrels of crude from an offshore platform in. Exxon Mobil which denies the claims is being threatened with Sanctions.
Early in 2011 the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FOEN) is asking for N51 billion in damages caused by the Qua Iboe oil fields which consists of a network of old, corroding pipelines. The accumulative effect of continuous oil spills has polluted the waterways, killed marine life, and has deprived fishermen in three coastal areas of their income. No compensation has been paid from 1998 – 2010. In their statement, ERA/FOEN detailed:
For decades, ExxonMobil has destroyed the environment, violated human rights, exercised its control over captive governments, funded climate change skeptics, degraded pristine wildernesses, and provided the environment for killings with impunity. ExxonMobil is able to achieve this unenviable feat as the world’s biggest corporation and as the most powerful oil company that has since become the face of globalisation. Mobil began operation in Nigeria in the present day Akwa Ibom State in 1967 and currently extracts more than 600,000 barrels of crude oil daily from that state alone.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
In Nigeria and elsewhere ExxonMobil’s intrusion into indigenous communities has consistently been a curse rather than a blessing. The ExxonMobil oil spill of January 11, 1998, which occurred at Idoho Platform in Akwa Ibom State spewed over 40,000 barrel of crude into rivers, creeks and farmlands . Similar spills due to corrosive pipelines that have outlived their life span frequently spew crude oil into the environment, with severe effect on biodiversity. Several communities in Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, and Delta states were affected by that spill and are yet to recover from its impact.Peaceful protests by some of the affected communities (for compensation and clean up of the spill) were met by police brutality. About 25 persons were arrested and detained and later released (amongst those released were Chief E. C. D. Abia and Mbong Obong Mbong). Till date adequate compensation has neither been paid nor was the spill properly cleaned up.
“This is a trademark pattern of ExxonMobil’s response of intimidation and suppression to protests against the damaging effects of their activities. Just turn the pages of most Nigerian dailies and hardly a day passes without a heavy dose of mind-boggling stories of the atrocities of this oil mogul.
“Recently a suit has been filed accusing the ExxonMobil of complicity in abuses committed by State Security forces that protected its natural gas fields in Aceh, Indonesia. The suit claims that ExxonMobil provided earth-moving equipment to dig mass graves; equipped soldiers involved in the atrocities and allowed company facilities to be used for interrogation and torture. The Plaintiffs further claimed against ExxonMobil that they have been subjected to serious human rights abuses, including genocide, murder, torture, and crimes against humanity, sexual violence, and kidnapping .
The above are just a small sample of the environmental disaster caused by ExxonMobil. They do not cover the extent to which ExxonMobil is involved in non-industrial activities like their complicity in human rights abuses in Indonesia that give them the upper-hand. Has the chicken come home to roost for ExxonMobil as already there are human rights abuses taking place as a result of an intended controversial pipeline in Chad/Cameroon?
One of the common reactions to the Yellowstone man-made disaster is that the river should be dammed, without thought of the level of ground heat that has been building up, and reducing the water table. If the Yellowstone River was to be dammed, it would be a catastrophe for the land, the area, and American agriculture , as the river flows through what is essentially a super-volcano. It is not a river to be tamed, put under control to obey the will of profits, it is a river that give life, not takes life. With a river like the Yellowstone, one wonders what logic was involved in placing the pipeline under the river, where it could be monitored, as surely it was done with only profit in mind!
Yellowstone claims hotline number 1-888-382-0043 has been established to assist individuals who might
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Statement by ExxonMobil Pipeline Company Regarding Crude Oil Release into Yellowstone River in Montana
July 2, 2011, 1:22 p.m. EDT
BILLINGS, Mont., Jul 02, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) — ExxonMobil Pipeline Company issued the following statement concerning a crude release into the Yellowstone River in Montana:
“Early on the morning of July 2, we discovered an undetermined amount of crude oil was released into the Yellowstone River from an ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (EMPCo) pipeline. EMPCo deeply regrets this release and is working hard with local emergency authorities to mitigate the impacts of this release on the surrounding communities and to the environment.
The release originated from a 12″ crude pipeline operated by EMPCo that runs from Silver Tip, MT to Billings, MT. The pipeline has been shutdown and the segment where the release occurred has been isolated. All appropriate state and federal authorities have been alerted.
At this early stage, we have no information on the cause of the incident, and we are working to determine the amount of oil released. ExxonMobil has activated its North American Regional Response Team to assist in the clean up efforts. A claims number 1-888-382-0043 has also been established to assist individuals who might have been impacted by this event.
We recognize the seriousness of this incident and are working hard to address it. Our principal focus is on protecting the safety and health of the public and our employees. We will, of course, also begin a thorough investigation of the cause of this unfortunate event. We will provide additional information as it becomes available.”
ExxonMobil, the largest publicly traded international oil and gas company, uses technology and innovation to help meet the world’s growing energy needs. ExxonMobil holds an industry-leading inventory of resources, is the largest refiner and marketer of petroleum products, and its chemical company is one of the largest in the world.
SOURCE: Exxon Mobil Corporation