Exxon Mobil CEO on spill: ‘I’m proud of the response’

Exxon Mobil Corp’s CEO, in an exclusive interview with FuelFix, said a rupture and oil spill last week from a company pipeline in Arkansas was regrettable, but that he is proud of the quick response to the incident.

“We’ll see what the cause was here, we really don’t know yet,” Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson said in the interview. “But I’m proud of the response and I’m really proud of the coordination we’ve had with the local authorities.”

Tillerson said Exxon Mobil’s response had limited damage and was a credit to the company’s focus on safety procedures, which it rehearses to ensure that it can reduce damage in the case of a problem.

The rupture of the Pegasus pipeline, which was installed in 1940, has damaged soil, killed two animals and caused the evacuation of nearly two dozen homes, according to Exxon Mobil. Emergency responders, working with Exxon Mobil, were at the site in Mayflower, Arkansas, 30 minutes after a problem was detected, the company said. So far, they have recovered about 12,000 barrels of water and oil.

Videos posted online after the incident showed oil flowing through a neighborhood and pooling on lawns and roads, as well as flowing into a storm drain.

The air quality directly around areas where emergency crews are working has been deemed harmful and has required breathing equipment for cleanup personnel, Exxon Mobil said. Workers have made progress in clearing standing oil and Exxon Mobil is developing plans to return residents to their homes, the company said.

State probe: Arkansas plans to open investigation into oil spill

“It appears that it certainly inconvenienced some residents, which we’re sorry about that, but we’re helping them,” Tillerson said. “We’ll restore all of the damage that they may have suffered and we’re prepared and we’ve got a procedure to begin to excavate the line so we can find out what really happened.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation is reviewing an excavation plan developed by Exxon Mobil so that it can look for the cause of the rupture and spill, Tillerson said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified the incident as a major spill, since it involved more than 250 barrels of oil.

“I think it’s an example that we can’t eliminate all risks,” Tillerson said. “This one, I think, was managed reasonably well, as regrettable as it is that it happened. But I am very proud of the response our people took when the line ruptured.”

Tillerson spoke with FuelFix hours before receiving an award in Houston from the National Safety Council for what the organization said was Exxon Mobil’s leading role in safety protocols and performance. Tillerson did not address the Arkansas incident during his reception speech.

The National Safety Council focuses on employee safety when considering applicants for its Green Cross for Safety medal, and does not factor in environmental issues such as spills. The award has been issued 13 times and never to an oil and gas company. It was delivered to Tillerson during a ceremony and fundraiser at the Hilton Americas-Houston on Tuesday night.