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5 Apr, 2013 20:49

Exxon wins safety award as Mayflower sees no end to spill cleanup (VIDEO)

As responders continue clearing tens of thousands of gallons of oil from a small Arkansas town after an Exxon pipeline burst, delivering a severe blow to the local ecosystem, a major NGO has named the oil giant the winner of a national safety award.

Follow RT's in-depth day-by-day timeline on the Arkansas oil spill

With Mayflower, Arkansas struggling to deal with the 84,000 gallons of crude that began running through its streets last week, ExxonMobil has been made the recipient of the National Safety Council's Green Cross for Safety medal.

The group praised Exxon and its corporate bosses for "comprehensive commitment to safety excellence." No mention was made of the developing Arkansas disaster.

"It is evident that ExxonMobil is committed to excellence in safety, security, health and environmental performance," council president Janet Froetscher said while presenting the award to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. "This organization is a wonderful example of the role corporations can play in preventing injuries and saving lives," she added.

An ExxonMobil press-release described the cleanup operations and the effect on the wildlife of the area.

“Fourteen dead ducks, one dead nutria and two dead turtles have been recovered,” said ExxonMobil, adding that a beaver and a muskrat had also been affected.

While the cleanup operation has entered its second week, there is still a lack of footage coming from the disaster zone. Nevertheless, Mayflower resident Chris Harrell, who's been in close contact with RT during the days following the accident, has provided a rare video of the cleanup effort.

The film, shot on Thursday, shows muddied tarps strewn out across the streets where 22 homes were evacuated after an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured last week.

Workers in special suits, reflective vests, and hard hats can be seen working as machinery buzzes in the background under a light drizzle.

As the camera pans down the street, revealing a vacuum truck in operation parked outside of a home, members of the cleanup crew with the ExxonMobil insignia approach Harrell to ask if he needs any help.

Harrell says he is taking video for friends who live in the area and is told by the crew worker that they are “concerned for his safety” due to the ongoing operations and equipment that has been deployed.  

Harrell, who then identifies himself as a resident, asks if the streets will have to be torn up. The crew is unable to answer, but offers an escort if he would like to enter the site.  

Still from Chris Harrell’s video of oil clean-up site in Arkansas on March 4, 2013

On Friday, ExxonMobile VP of Operations, Karen Tyrone, said the company has increased the size of the cleanup crew working in Mayflower to more than 640 people. Tyrone continued that they are working 24 hours a day to keep the oil from spreading.

"Precaution is the word here. We're not going to put people at risk. We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable before these residents return to their homes," she said.

On Wednesday, ExxonMobile had said that around “570 people are responding to the incident in addition to federal, state and local responders.” Despite his most civil encounter with the crew on the ground, Harrell expressed frustration that it had taken ExxonMobil so long to bolster the crew attempting to clean up thousands of barrels worth of oil in the area.

However, according to Daniel Kessler, an environmental campaigner who recently spoke to RT, the quality of the staff brought on site by Exxon is questionable.

We do know that they’ve hired about 600 local workers to come down and do the cleanup, and they’re actually using the internet service Craigslist, where you can buy bicycles and sofas and stuff like that, to advertise and hire cleanup workers. So I don’t know about the qualifications of some of the people that they’re bringing in. I do know that ExxonMobil last year made about 45 billion dollars, so I’m sure they can afford to bring in some professionals to do the cleanup.”

“Why did @exxonmobil wait 5 days to bring in additional manpower? We've gotten your worst please give us your best,” Harrell tweeted on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Exxon Mobil spokesman Alan Jeffers says between 3,500 and 5,000 barrels of oil leaked from a ruptured pipeline, although previous reports had put that figure at 12,000 barrels.

There is no solid timetable on when the cleanup efforts will finally be completed.

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Still from Chris Harrell’s video of oil clean-up site in Arkansas on March 4, 2013

Still from Chris Harrell’s video of oil clean-up site in Arkansas on March 4, 2013

Spilled crude oil is seen in a drainage ditch near Starlite Road in Mayflower, Arkansas March 31, 2013. (Reuters)