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    Things Are Getting Orwellian at Exxon's Arkansas Oil Spill

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Image: YouTube screenshot

    Exxon Mobil's Pegasus pipeline just ruptured and spewed toxic oily muck all over Arkansas. It ran like a river through the suburb of Mayflower, pop. 2,000. Now, Exxon has publicly decreed that it will clean up all of the oil it spilled. Which is kind of strange, because officially, according to Exxon, there was no oil spill. Technically, there was no oil in the pipeline in the first place. 

    That's because if that pipeline was carrying oil, Exxon would have had to pay eight cents per barrel it pumped into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. The fund was set up by a 1980 law enacted to ensure there's enough cash on hand to cover the costs of cleanup when, say, a giant pipeline ruptures and spews crude oil all over people's houses. But, in a little legal slight-of-hand, tar sands oil, or bitumen, is not technically classified as oil. And that's the stuff that was flowing through Exxon's pipeline. 

    Tar sands oil is heavier and thicker (and much dirtier) than typical crude oil, and it must be diluted with other fluids to allow it to move through pipelines, hence the term 'dilbit' oil. Otherwise, it'd just clog up the tube like toxic mud. Anywho, that 1980 law exempted bitumen from the oil spill trust fund, a little fact that oil companies have gleefully kept quiet ever since the tar sands turned into the world's biggest earth-obliterating gold mine. 

    As such, on the books, there was no oil spill in Arkansas. But don't worry, Exxon is going to do everything it can to clean up its oil spill in Arkansas.

    Now "Orwellian" is probably one of the more overused adjectives in internet-speak, but sometimes the term fits your blog post like an oily glove. Not only is Exxon exploiting this charming little bit of doublethink regarding the non-oil-oil-spill, but it turns out that it's put a nicely dystopian surveillance apparatus into effect, too.

    There's apparently a no-fly zone instated directly over the spill, and it is reportedly being managed by a Exxon officials, with the cooperation of the FAA. Exxon and the FAA will tell you what you need to know about the spill, and also about the war with Eurasia, which we are winning, thank goodness.

    News helicopters are not allowed over the spill, because, according to the FAA, “[Exxon is] using at least one helicopter to provide aerial support for the cleanup. For safety reasons, they asked us to protect the airspace 1,000 feet above the area to allow the aircraft to move as needed.”

    It is a happy coincidence that news helicopters will also be unable to relay more embarrassing footage of Exxon's non-oil oil spill. The FAA says that after the spill is cleaned up, they will happily allow news helicopters to fly anywhere they'd like. Reportedly, the newscasters were initially upset about the restriction. But after they had a nice long chat with the officials managing the airspace, they were seen emerging from the air traffic control towers each with gin-soaked tears running down their faces, having won victory over themselves. They loved Big Oil.