June 25, 2013

It's Time to Change the Exxon Strategy 

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster and Dave Lincoln

Exxon has a play book assembled long in advance of any spill.  At each step they lie, evade the issues, stall, and work on victims to entice and threaten them to settle when the victims are still numb with shock and have no idea what they are facing in terms of their health. 

The Kalamazoo Spill of 2010, from   Enbridge Energy Partners spilled into Talmadge Creek near Marshall, Michigan continuing downstream into the Kalamazoo River.  The health impact on residents continues to this day.  The financial cost is now estimated at over $1 billion.  The BP Disaster in the Gulf is also far from resolution, for people or the environment and BP has recently warned that it will be “irreparably harmed unless the compensation system is reformed fast.  

People, struggling for a return to health lose many things.  An environment also struggles, ripples from the event impacting far more land, water, and people than were harmed at first.

In time, the costs become monumental financially.  But the cost to all of us in terms of lost trust, outrage, and grief are also real, though more difficult to calculate.

It would have cost Exxon less to act immediately in Mayflower, as it would have cost other oil companies less in the long run to limit the impact on people and the environment. So, we can only conclude, sadly, oil companies have adopted a role which mandates doing the 'wrong thing,' as policy.  

We don't think this needs to continue, however.  Therefore, we present this alternative scenario for both the public, and Exxon, arguably, the largest oil company. Continuing a 'policy' which is unethical in a country which is growing increasingly aware of and angry at the costs, is not a solution.

Our point is, what if Exxon had done the right thing last March 29th, having examined and taken into account their enormous potential for liability?  What if they had been ready and used the resources at their disposal to act responsibly, both because the legal liabilities had finally become real to them and because, in good conscience, they saw their actions were insupportable?   

The facts are clear in regards to the Pegasus Pipeline and the XL.  

The profit to be gained from transporting oil for other companies, most especially Koch Industries, are far too low to justify the risks they are taking or the cost of bringing the Pegasus Pipeline up to an acceptable standard for safety.  

If this had sunk in, and instead of obfuscating, they had adopted a different view of their business and its place in our world, they would not, today, be viewed with growing hostility and distrust.  They would have taken the initiative, handling a disaster such as Mayflower, very differently. Exxon has the resources of a nation state and possessed all of the resources outlined here, at their disposal, many from within their own corporation.  

Let's examine the path not taken, which they, and other oil companies, have done so consistently.  A different decision, a new direction, made at the right time, can change the world.  

A NEW SCRIPT FOR EXXON – What should have happened.  
Written for Green Fields Renewal

March 25, 2013 - In a posh Exxon boardroom.  

The board table, which seats 30, is full and people are standing behind the table and chairs which line the room.  The sense of excitement is palpable.  Attendees are speaking softly to each other as they wait, watching the man seated at the head of the table as he silently flips the pages in the folder before him.   With decision, he closes the folder and stands.   The soft sounds of conversation cease.  

Col. Duright has a craggy look about him. As the head of a new division for Exxon, which replaced several hundred attorneys with corps of emergency personnel, comprising three separate missions, he knows he has much to prove.  He's used to proving himself and finds the challenge invigorating.  This is a mission he can believe in.

Exxon has taken an unexpected direction, but one the Colonel approves.   

Some attribute this change to a spiritual experience, possibly encouraged by pharmaceuticals, by several members of the Exxon Board of Directors and Corporate Officers at their corporate get-away six months ago.  

Others believe the new approach to handling oil spills was adopted because of the more prosaic, but ominous, predictions from their Chief of Accounting from the cost of past spills and projections for higher costs for new spills, devastating to the continued existence of the company.  

Heretofore, their relationships with Congress immunized them from the tsunami of liability which would strike if, instead of a spill occurring in a small town like Mayflower, a spill destroyed the ground water for Little Rock, Arkansas.  Such a spill would leave close to a million people in the Metropolitan Area without a supply of fresh water.  It didn't happen, but it could have.   There are some things even Exxon can’t fix with a lavish PR campaign.  

No matter why, things have changed at Exxon, of that there is no doubt.  

Duright, a former Marine, was brought in to handle hiring and training, following the new guidelines for corporate ethics and responsible behavior.  Some people at Exxon, uncomfortable with the change, took early retirement, but on the whole most employees were relieved, looking forward to being able to admit they work for an oil company. 

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been an intense six months for all of us.  Are our No Harm First Responders ready if any spill occurs along our pipelines?”   Looking around the room, you can almost see the Colonel in a uniform, instead of his khaki pants and shirt, open at the neck.   Most of the No Harmers are casually dressed.  You can hear the years of discipline as he barks, “Count off!”

Sir!  No Harm Team People Safe is ready,” announces a woman dressed in jeans wearing a No Harm Tee-shirt as she rises from her seat at the table.  Next to her an older man dressed in scrubs stands, “Sir, No Harm Team People Healthy is ready.”  Jumping up from his seat Buck Stopps yells out, “Sir, No Harm Team Earth Life is ready and eager!”  He and Duright briefly make eye contact.  

Nodding, Duright says, “From this moment on, all of you are on call.  Keep your cell phones with you at all times.  While you are on your duty shift stay within five minutes of your transport.”  Nodding, Duright salutes and the salute is returned. 

Transport planes have been stationed around the world, ready to be deployed, standing by the fleet of corporate jets used by upper management.  Exxon is bigger than most countries and has immense resources at its disposal.
The last six months began with intense research which ended in a shredding of the Emergency Plans previously on file.  The new goal -  No Harm to people or to the environment.  Normally, media releases would have gone out with an announcement, but a testing of the waters resulted in a decision to demonstrate the policy with action, when, and if, the need arose.

Three days later, on March 29th, it happened.  The aging infrastructure of pipes within the entire Exxon system had been one of the first issues raised as locations for placing First Response Teams began.  

Within ten minutes, planes were in the air, filled with No Harm First Responders.  Flight times varied, but each plane carried a full array of necessary materials for the first 24 hours, after which more would be available as the airlift went into action. 

Greg Feather, Deputy Team Leader for People glanced around the C130 at the faces, most of them watching him.  Greg's boss, Dr. Jen McClearide, specialty, Trauma Response, would make on the spot determinations and refer those most in need to Environmental Trauma Specialist Dr. John Healer for this and immediate health issues. 

Duright had searched Greg out within days of the Change Over at Exxon, realizing what this job could mean to him.  During his years in the Marines, Greg had seen countries laid waste, people dying from the lack of electricity, medical care, and from starvation.  The crazy senselessness of it all had driven him into a deep depression.  

As his condition worsened his wife, unable to cope, left him.  He was ready to stick his pistol in his mouth when Duright called him in for a talk.  He never knew how the Col. found out, just shaking his head when, months later, Greg asked him.  By then, thanks to the neurofeedback treatments Duright quietly provided to his own men, Greg was healing.  Still on medical leave, he resigned his commission the moment the Col. offered him the opportunity to help, instead of harm people.

Many of the personnel from all three teams were drawn from former military, mostly marines.  They understand rapid response. 

At this moment they were 34.5 minutes out from the moment the spill was noticed. Team No Harm Earth was already on the ground, placing dikes around the sludgy stuff in full Detox suits.  

After vacuuming up the oil flows, In Place remediation would take three months, using a technology based on enzymes grown for the purpose.  The land, and water, would be left healthy, fertile, and clean.

The on-ground notification of residents, advising them to pack bags for a week and bring all of their animals, had started two minutes ago, according to the rolling update on Greg's screen.  As he glanced over at Jen he saw she was frowning as she typed in further instructions to the on-ground Team.  

The Security Team would be in place to ensure residents' homes and property were safe until their temporary homes, as close as possible to schools, work and friends, were obtained.  Since the number of residents was fairly small for this scenario, this would happen well within the week their advance planning had allowed for. 

Team Redeploy, would handle obtaining needed housing after the first week, which would be spent in the best hotels the area could provide.  Greg smiled.  It was amazing what money could get you.  

Hotels with 'no pet' policies were delighted to cooperate, welcoming all sorts of junior members of impacted families.  Taking over whole hotels lowered costs significantly, and also allowed No Harm's single attorney to do his work more efficiently.
Greg smiled wryly.  Setting up a legal Trust lowered future costs, reassured residents, and smoothed the process for everyone.  But it clearly offended the sensibilities of their attorney, a graduate of Harvard honed in the ways of offsetting costs for corporations.

Residents would be able to choose mass relocation to new homes in a similar development, with better, newer technologies, or opt to wait until the remediation was finished on their original location.  Either way, the Redeploy Team was ready. 

Exxon would also be paying local restaurants to cater meals for both residents and the Teams.

Five minutes from landing Greg's screen flashed with the names of the families and all individuals within the most impacted area.  

Moving over to sit next to Jen, Greg said, “We have twenty-six families for assignment of individual Concierges. These are landing in a half hour for the immediate spill area.”

In response to an Update on his screen, Greg hit a key, glanced at the screen and announced, “Twenty-five large capacity trucks with vacuums are now removing oil on the ground so it will not escape into storm drains. Containment in the immediate area is now assured. “

Greg glanced at his screen again. “Air quality indications show particulate matter is beginning to drop.” A cheer went up from the No Harmer Team, this meant they would not have to evacuate people from the Secondary areas.

Jen, who had been listening intently to her cell, turned to Greg, “Our On-Ground Team could not notify Gertrude Star.  They say she won't talk to them and refuses to open her door.  They are waiting for us to call someone she knows to provide emotional support.”  

Gertrude was, according to their records, in her late 80s and had one child, a daughter, who lived in Cleveland.  Jen had just talked to her, explaining what was happening.  The daughter was now calling her mother.  A limo and then corporate jet would pick up the daughter for transport to Mayflower, beginning in a half hour
Team Earth reports the fumes are getting worse quickly,” said Jen as she looked over the numbers.  “But Mrs. Star's daughter sounded like she could handle the woman.”

At the same moment the C130's wheels touched down on the field near Mayflower, Arkansas.  
By 5pm, all impacted residents were checked into their suites or rooms and either eating together in the dining room with the No Harm Team Members, or ordering room service. Food for pets, walking services, and kitty boxes were also supplied and in use with Family Concierges smoothing the way, remaining on site, to listen and assist.
Mrs. Star had refused to open the door until 12:25pm, when Jen and Greg had introduced her personal Concierge to her.  Her personal concierge, Alma Benton, had asked the worried Team to leave her alone at the door to talk to Mrs. Star.  In a few minutes the door had opened and Alma had entered.  A half hour later she and Mrs. Star exited, Alma carrying bags and Mrs. Star holding her dead husband's urn to her breast,  a Silver Star hanging from its neck. 

It does not take long for strangers to become friends, when the same things matter to them.  
That first week had been busy.  Residents, in detox gear, watched as the Team Redeployment movers boxed up all their possessions, ensuring fumes did not harm their property.  Boxes and furniture were moved in to leased homes the next week.
After considering their options, the Mayflower Group decided to wait an additional six months in homes leased for them by Exxon so they could return to new homes at their original location.

Over those days they discovered new depth in their relationships with each other, and with the No Harm Teams, too.  They knew these people cared about them.  Move In day was a real celebration. These homes were, however, somewhat different than the ones which had been demolished. 

Built to the Deep Green Passive Standard the homes they moved into required no heating or cooling.   Instead of needing constant upkeep and paying high energy bills, they cost nearly nothing to maintain.  Since Exxon provided the homes as a part of their compensation, residents had no mortgages.  Because they were Deep Green Passive they had no energy bills for heating or cooling.  

The world is different when people do the right thing.  We need the world to change, starting now.  - The Green Fields Renewal Team is ready.

In 1971, when a group of us came together in the cause of clean air and water, sitting at the negotiating table with the International Chamber of Commerce, and the oil companies, then represented by Robert O. Anderson (Alaskan Pipeline), Maurice Strong, and George H. W. Bush.

At the table were Buckminster Fuller, Margaret Mead, Jacques Cousteau, Thor Heyerdahl and myself, Helen Bryan. Internationally respected experts on environmental issues were involved, many of the meetings taking place at the United Nations.

We believed we were entering a dialog as equals. In our minds, everyone involved was there for the single purpose of ensuring future generations would never want for an environment which supported the health and well being of all living things.

We were wrong about the intentions of the corporations.

It is time all the corporations take responsibility for their impact on our world, the commons of air, water, and life. Let's hope this starts, now, in Mayflower, Arkansas.”

Helen Bryan Garland, CEO,
Earth Society, United Nations

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