While the failure of the Exxon pipeline has resulted in a significant spill in Arkansas, the media coverage of the incident has been rather limited. Part of this is due to the nature of the media, but part of this is due to Exxon stepping in and imposing “Corporate Law” in the area. To be specific, Exxon seems to be employing the local sheriffs as their own private security force to keep reporters out of the area. While I am not a constitutional scholar, I would contend that this is a clear violation of the freedom of the press.
Naturally, I would understand it if the sheriffs were being employed to keep people from blundering into the contaminated zones-after all, being exposed to the spill would not be good for a person’s health. However, Exxon is directing its sheriffs to keep reporters away from areas in which there is no actual danger-other than the danger of Exxon and its associates being exposed to press coverage. As usual, I would infer that if they are engaging in such heavy handed and seemingly unconstitutional tactics, then what they are trying to conceal must be very bad indeed. There is also the obvious problem with an oil company using the sheriffs to do their bidding.
Another important point of concern is that the FAA has imposed a no-fly zone over the area of the spill and has apparently put Exxon in charge of this. Obviously, the folks at Exxon are not going to say that they have had their FAA impose the no-fly zone to prevent the press from taking pictures from the air. After all, a corporation imposing a no-fly zone over such an area simply to exclude the press would presumably be illegal. Instead, the claim is that the area must be kept clear to allow a helicopter to fly about without interference.
Now, if there was a significant air operation in the area so that the airspace was crowded, then the imposition of a non-fly zone would make sense. However, this is not the case and there is no reason why other aircraft should be excluded from the area-other than keeping people from seeing what is actually occurring in the area.
To some folks, this might seem to be the sort of thing that could only happen in a third world country with a weak government. After all, the United States government is supposed to have sovereignty in Arkansas and not Exxon. But, this sort of situation does not surprise me in the least. It merely reminded me of a cartoon I saw years ago in college on the wall in the petroleum engineering department. I don’t recall the whole cartoon, but I remember the main point was “no one screws with the oil companies.” That seems to be as true now as it was then.
It must be inferred that the folks in Exxon think that what they are doing is a good idea and that the consequences of acting in this manner will be better for them than allowing the media the access they are entitled to under the constitution. Or perhaps getting their own way is simply a matter of habit-they are just openly showing who is really in charge here.
For full disclosure, I must note that I own Exxon stock. As such, the profit loving part of my soul is pleased by this show of dominance over the government. I know that I can count on Exxon to have the power to do what it takes to keep the oil and money flowing. However, the part of my soul that loves the rule of law, freedom of the press and ethical behavior is appalled by this.
I do believe that a company can be ethical and still make a profit-Exxon could handle this situation both effectively and with moral correctness. In fact, they would actually benefit from doing so. But, the habits that arise from owning a chunk of the government are no doubt hard to break.