Two years after an ExxonMobil pipeline spilled 63,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River, Montana and federal officials are seeking new fines based on a review of natural resources damages. Officials have charged the oil and the clean-up process left long-term damage to the area, leaving fish, birds, and wildlife dead or injured and interrupting environmental studies, recreation, and fishing.
Negotiations on the 2011 spill are ongoing, but it is possible it will go to court if the company resists. Exxon hasn’t hinted what its plans are yet, but there is good reason to believe it will fight. Exxon is already disputing a $1.7 million penalty fee for failing to take proper precautions against the pipeline rupture. Exxon has argued the company acted responsibly, and spent $135 million on cleanup.
For perspective on what a million-dollar fine means for Exxon, the company has earned $24.2 billion profit in the first nine months of the year and has spent $10.6 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In other words, Exxon earned back the $1.7 million fine in less than one hour in 2012.
The company regularly challenges penalties imposed by regulators over oil spills, meaning it can take years for U.S. courts to resolve. Decades since the Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster of 1989, Exxon is still battling payment for the damage to natural resources. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, a company subsidiary facing criminal charges has argued that dumping polluted water had “no lasting environmental impact.”
Expect the next fight to be in Mayflower, Arkansas, where a pipeline dumped tar sands crude into a small town. The damage is still being assessed, but in the meantime Exxon is buying homes from residents in order to tear down the ruined houses. Yesterday, the company had more bad news when a federal judge refused to dismiss the class action lawsuit from Mayflower residents.