It has been said here before, with much confidence, that to allow the Kearl Module Transport Project to proceed will open a Pandora’s Box of industrialization in the inland Northwest. In particular, the establishment of an ongoing culture of supplying equipment to the Tar Sands of Alberta by means of high-wide truck transport through the region. In a certain sense, we here in the northern Rockies are facing the decision of whether or not to invite some new neighbors to the ‘hood. There seems little doubt that this controversy would be understood were these new neighbors registered sex offenders, or perhaps another white supremacist club so common in this region, but when the newest immigrants to our community are the world’s largest, wealthiest capitalist organizations, a certain sense existing somewhere between apathy and defeat takes hold of the discourse. With this in mind, and following the absurd precedent of corporate personhood, let’s consider for a moment just who we are opening our arms wide for.
A Look at ExxonMobil
The world’s largest publicly traded institution, regularly posting world record-setting profits, is ExxonMobil. This direct descendant of tycoon John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company is the result of the remerging of Exxon and Mobil, two entities previously joined in a monopoly and forced to split under anti-trust laws. Time has been good to this mega-corporation. The same cannot be said for how the company has been to the rest of the world.
In 1989, ExxonMobil spilled 11 million gallons of oil near Valdez, AK causing environmental damage that we are still dealing with today. At the time, the ExxonValdez oil spill in Prince William Sound was without doubt the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, and today remains near the top of the list. Some 1200 miles of pristine coastline became coated with crude oil, untold numbers of seabirds and other wildlife died as a result of contact with the spill, and desperate cover up efforts resulted in the literal deaths of once-biodiverse beaches. A court ordered the company in 1994 to pay 4.5 billion dollars in damages to the 33,000 Alaskan Natives and non-native fishermen who’s livelihoods were harmed by the spill. Today, Exxon has still not paid up despite posting over $250 billion in profits in just the last 10 years. Since the ruling, over 6000 of the plaintiffs have passed away while waiting in vain for compensation.
ExxonMobil’s flagrant disregard for its responsibility to the people it affected is merely a part of a long precedent it has set.
In 1990, a month after ExxonMobil spilled over half a million gallons of oil from a pipeline into the waters between Staten Island and New Jersey, the company was sued by the city of New York for falsifying safety reports after Exxon admitted that the pipeline’s leak detection system had not worked for 12 years.
In 1991, the EPA sued Exxon for again tainting the waters near Valdez, AK, this time with ballast waste water. That same year the EPA also fined Exxon for discharging contaminated fluids from service stations directly into or above underground drinking water sources around the country. Since then, Exxon has been accused of continuing to ignore such crimes it has committed repeatedly.
In 1993, Exxon was sued for knowingly bypassing air pollution control equipment at its Linden, NJ Bayway refinery. Come 1995, Exxon was sued over violations of the Clean Water Act and the resource conservation and recovery act in Louisiana.
In 1998, they were sued by the Department of Justice for clean air act violations, sued for discharging selenium (a carcinogen) into San Francisco Bay, and sued for excess levels of carcinogens in industrial wastes in Louisiana. That same year, Exxon heavily publicized a petition supposedly signed by 17,000 “scientists” that dismissed the scientific consensus on global warming. The petitions was supposedly endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, but the NAS itself later condemned the petition as a fake. Since then, Exxon has spent over $23 million to fund over 40 organizations per year that seek to discredit climate change, a practice which continues to this day despite claims in 2006 that the company was ending such funding.
In 2000, Exxon was convicted of defrauding Alabama on royalties from gas wells in state waters, and they settled a suit against it and 9 other companies for underpaying the government hundreds of millions of dollars in drilling royalties for federal lands leases. And in 2001, they were sued by Texas for extracting oil & gas from state land without permission.
Though the Valdez disaster rates as the most well known of Exxon’s crimes, it should not be forgotten that they were sued by the International Labor Rights fund over the corporation’s complicity in human rights abuses in Indonesia during the Suharto regime. The company contracted the Indonesian army to provide security for gas projects on Sumatra, and villagers were subsequently murdered, tortured, kidnapped and raped. Exxon supplied the barracks in which villagers were tortured as well as the excavators used to dig mass graves.
Exxon has given high-paying jobs to former White House officials who falsified government reports to favor the oil industry’s positions and has engaged in practices of union-busting around the globe, notably in places such as Columbia and Peru where indigenous communities are being forcibly evicted to make way for Exxon projects. It has traded illegally with countries such as Sudan, in violation of official sanctions, has been the subject of countless anti-trust suits since the 1800s, when ExxonMobil was known as Standard Oil, and is responsible for 41 Superfund sites in 17 states.
An Industry-wide Culture
Just as the emerging high-wide corridor in the northern Rockies exceeds limiting utilization to just one company, so too does this culture of disregard for social and environmental rights. The oil industry as a whole self-perpetuates a reputation for horrific crimes against humanity and the Earth.
From political assassinations and civilian massacres in defense of Shell and ChevronTexaco’s operations in the Niger delta as well as that region’s ongoing environmental devastation, to BP’s cover up of ecocide in the already precarious Gulf of Mexico, the companies behind this abuse of our landscapes and communities in the northern Rockies have given us no reasonable assurance that we are not becoming the next in a long line of disposable populations and sacrifice zones in Big Oil CEO’s exploitation of the planet for personal gains.
ExxonMobil’s and other tar sands exploiters have only one purpose on this planet: to maximize profits for their shareholders. We in the northern Rockies are faced with the chance to acquiesce or stand our ground against the Kearl Module Transport Project and the tar sands. Let us not go quietly into the night….