ExxonMobil, FAA, Arkansas cops establish flight restriction zone, threaten reporters who try to document Mayflower, AR spill

Expect to see a lot fewer images of toxic sludge creeping through small communities, thanks to the hard work of ExxonMobil. The company could have used its prodigious resources to make its oil pipelines more secure, preventing town-destroying leaks like the one that hit Mayflower, Arkansas. But they figured out that it would be cheaper to just corrupt the local law to chase reporters out and get the FAA to establish a Temporary Flight Restriction zone over the spill. Problem solved!

Michael Hibblen, who reports for the radio station KUAR, went to the spill site on Wednesday with state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. McDaniel was in the area to inspect the site and hold a news conference, and Hibblen and a small group of reporters were following him to report on the visit. Upon arrival, representatives from the county sheriff's office, which is running security at the site, directed the reporters to a boundary point 10 feet away that they should not pass. The reporters agreed to comply. But the tone shifted abruptly, Hibblen told Mother Jones on Friday:

It was less than 90 seconds before suddenly the sheriff's deputies started yelling that all the media people had to leave, that ExxonMobil had decided they don't want you here, you have to leave. They even referred to it as "Exxon Media"…Some reporters were like, "Who made this decision? Who can we talk to?" The sheriff's deputies started saying, "You have to leave. You have 10 seconds to leave or you will be arrested."

Hibblen says he didn't really have time to deal with getting arrested, since he needed to file his report on the visit for both the local affiliate and national NPR. (You can hear his piece on the AG's visit here.) KUAR has also reported on Exxon blocking reporters' access to the spill site.

Reporters Say Exxon Is Impeding Spill Coverage in Arkansas [MotherJones/Kate Sheppard]

(via Kadrey)



  1. There was a spill in Alaska as well? Lol.  Someone needs to brush up on state abbreviations….~shakes fist~ …WEEKEND GUY!!!!!!

  2. Any fines they pay for engaging in this behavior will just be the cost of doing business. Baldly bribing law enforcement is an age-old tradition and likely not illegal in practice, and any penalties against law enforcement will be paid out of the county’s citizen’s tax dollars regardless.

    1. “Bribing” law enforcement is terribly crass and probably illegal.

      ‘Exemplying the $COMPANY$’s commitment to community engagement’ by have your charitable arm make some (ideally tax deductable) donations to the local Fraternal Order of Police, hiring off-duty sheriffs and officers for guard detail on your construction projects, etc. Now that is just good corporate citizenship, totally upstanding!

  3. What remedies does the FAA have against someone declaring emergency near the zone, and having to make an emergency landing in a path that flies over the zone?

  4. Altitude From the surface up to and including 1000 feet AGL

    The  flight restriction is only up to 1000 feet above ground level so you should be able to fly over the site and take pictures.

  5. The TFR (temporary flight restriction) looks like it’s only from the surface to 1000 feet above ground.  1000 feet above ground is the minimum altitude over populated areas so I don’t see how this affects aircraft.  Now if you’re a news reporter in a helicopter with a special clearance to fly lower, then you might be unhappy.  1000 feet above ground isn’t very high for aircraft though.

    1. Absolutely. Even if you considered the town to be ‘sparely populated area’ you could only get within “500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.” To my reading, this changes almost nothing about the area, except to add an extra 500ft of ‘keep away’ space, and it would also prevent you from landing in a field or in the lake there.
      I’m all for uncovering corruption, but this restriction is extremely reasonable and conservative in an emergency management area.

      Here is the regulation that applies all the time, for reference:

      If you want to see what a really disruptive TFR looks like, check out one of the TFRs that’s issued when the President travels.

    1. I hope those are Brawny paper towels being used to soak up the spill.
      “Kids knock over glasses of milk. Dogs make a
      mess drinking out of the toilet. Dads leave footprints down the hallway
      after gardening. There’s always a mess for someone to clean up!
      But that’s okay… because messes happen! With Brawny® paper towels
      in the house, you’ve got the strength to get things done.”

      1. Truth be told they did look like normal paper towels.  There might have been some sort of oil absorbent on them, but I couldn’t say.  They looked about as effective as you’d reasonably guess however.

  6. an Exxon spokesperson told reporter Lisa Song that she could be “arrested for criminal trespass” when she went to the command center to try to find representatives from the EPA and the Department of Transportation. […] the news director from the local NPR affiliate who said he, too, had been threatened with arrest while trying to cover the spill […] Hibblen says he didn’t really have time to deal with getting arrested

    So much journalism fail. Call their bluff, or get yourself arrested and write about that. Didn’t have time?! Who cares if you miss a deadline when the story you’re filing amounts to “Some Hillbilly Cops Were Rude To Me?” 

    “NPR Seeks Declarative Judgement Against Exxon-Mobil, Sheriff’s Dept. In False Arrest Suit,” now there’s a hed with legs.

          1.  If news orgs had more money, they’d send one reporter to get arrested, and another to cover teh arrest

          2. I think this may cause an infinite regress and we would all have to spend the rest of our lives building jails to house ourselves in.

        1. Production environment means the same thing no matter the business – produce, or lose your job.

  7. Instead of not improving the pipeline, they could just not develop the tar sands altogether. Or reverse the flow of the oil, which puts a lot of stress on the pipeline. I suggest that you follow the tar sands blockade for some more info, too.

  8. Clearly this looks bad for the people (corporations) lobbying for the pipeline, while clearer heads asked for more study. Plenty to study now, except that apparently some people are more equal than others.

  9. BP behaved in this exact same manner down in the gulf and local cops went along with it there, too. So much for the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of the press!

  10. Seriously, Cory? I’m disappointed. I know people don’t care much about the “flyover” states, but you could at least spend a couple seconds getting the abbreviation right.

    P.S. Oh joy, now I’m gonna end up on the “people who are disappointed in Boing Boing doc, aren’t I? *sigh*

  11. These ‘people’ are very powerful.  The environment be damned, the laws be damned, the people be damned and the only thing that matters is the bottom line.  No nosy reporters are going to get in the way.  Greed is good and to hell with anything else!  Anybody who gets in the way will be run over.

    1.  Because: more profit. I don’t understand the drive for more profit. I have heard company representatives say that they have a responsibility to shareholders, but I still don’t understand this drive for more profit. If you re-invest the profit then was it profit?

  12. My guess is that Exxon knows the exact words to say to make the police shut down the scene with out further questions. Some combination of public, safety, disaster and !splosions! I suspect.

  13. fascism

        (historical) A political regime, having totalitarian aspirations, ideologically based on a relationship between business and the centralized government, business-and-government control of the market place, repression of criticism or opposition, a leader cult, and exalting the state and/or religion above individual rights. Originally only applied (usually capitalized) to Benito Mussolini’s Italy.

        By vague analogy, any system of strong autocracy or oligarchy usually to the extent of bending and breaking the law, race-baiting, and violence against largely unarmed populations.

                                                 — wiktionary.org

  14. Had this happened in another democratic first world country other than the USA the comments would be full of USians berating the rest of the planet about their inferior freedoms compared to the “Land of the Free”.

    Here we see evidence of restriction on the Freedom of Press and suspicion of bribery of law enforcement and the only thing worth commenting is “You got the abbreviation wrong lol”? 

  15. Cory:

    The TFR was removed, two days -before- you posted this article. 

    Citation here: http://aireform.com/?p=5193

    And as others have already mentioned upthread, anyone who can’t get good pictures of an oil spill while flying at 1000 ft AGL needs to trade in that Box Brownie for something a little more up to date.

  16. Amazing how everyone decides the most salient aspects of this story are the postal abbreviation of the state name and the fact that the temporary flight restriction isn’t a big deal.  (Note that nothing in the OP indicates that the flight restriction is actually a big deal.  It’s implied that it has to do with preventing bad PR but that’s not stated and anyone who cares about what’s actually important about this story could easily overlook that implication.  And it’s factually accurate — the TFR may have been lifted two days before the article was posted but the OP doesn’t actually say otherwise.)

    We’re going to end up living in a blasted totalitarian hellscape within a few decades but at least the impotent, defanged news media will be held to high standards. (They’ll be held to the standards but they’ll still fail to meet them.)

  17. No mention of how this is affected by freedom of the press?  Can they legally stop people from filming and reporting on it?

    Nothing screams cover-up quite like being as tight-lipped as possible.

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