ExxonMobil is one of the most profitable companies in the world, raking in third-quarter 2013 profits of $7.87 billion. That's $85 million per day or $3 million per hour, depending how you want to look at it. So, when we read that ExxonMobil was "hit with [a] proposed $2.6M pipeline fine" - for the Pegasus pipeline spill of around 5,000 barrels of crude oil in Mayflower, Arkansas in March 2013 - we immediately pulled up an Excel spreadsheet to figure out what this meant to the oil company.
The short answer: this fine would mean essentially nothing to ExxonMobil's balance sheet. The longer answer: a $2.6 million fine would amount to less than 1 hour of ExxonMobil's 3rd quarter 2013 profits. That's not even a slap on the wrist, frankly, compared to the damage this accident caused.
The rupture in the Pegasus pipeline on March 29 dumped up to an estimated 294,000 gallons of Canadian heavy crude in Mayflower, Ark.—including in a cove that flows into Lake Conway, a major fishing lake. If that estimate turns out to be correct, the Arkansas spill would be one-third the size of a 2010 Michigan pipeline spill, the worst accident of its kind in U.S. history.
Experts say that after oil spills, hydrocarbons and toxins leech into the soil and sediment and travel up the food chain as fish and animals eat contaminated species. The oil can also kill crucial erosion-protecting vegetation.
It can take years and millions of dollars to restore the environment.
"Ecosystems provide the most basic forms of sustenance for us: our food supply, our drinking water, protection against floods and natural disasters," said John Kostyack, vice president for wildlife conservation at the National Wildlife Federation. "When you start breaking down those ecosystems, you start losing that."
As if that's not bad enough, InsideClimate News reports that since the spill, "many people have continued to suffer from dizziness, headaches, nausea and vomiting—classic symptoms of short-term exposure to the chemicals found in crude oil." Finally, it's important to note that the heavy crude (Canadian Wabasca heavy crude from the Athabasca oil sands) spilled in this accident, and the damage it did, could be a lot worse if the Keystone XL pipeline is built, as it would carry the same type of oil - but at much greater volumes than Pegasus - right through the heartland of America. Meanwhile, the message sent to the oil industry by the less-than-one-hour-in-profits fine on ExxonMobil is that there won't be serious consequences for the damages they cause. Don't think they haven't noticed.