ExxonMobil to pay $600K for killing birds

Birds in five Western states may be able to breathe easier after ExxonMobil (XOM) pleaded guilty to charges of violating federal laws protecting migratory birds. As the Department of Justice said Friday, the company also agreed to pay fines totaling $600,000.

The world's largest oil refiner, ExxonMobil was charged with killing 85 protected birds, including waterfowl, hawks and owls by exposing them to pollutants at facilities in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. The violations occurred as late as this year and went back to 2004.

According to the Justice Department, ExxonMobil exposed the birds to hydrocarbons, chemical compounds derived from fossil fuels. Believed to be the primary source of global warming, these pollutants were emitted through uncovered natural gas wells and waste-water storage sites in the five states.

None of the birds killed was listed as an endangered or threatened species under federal law. The migratory birds come into contact with hydrocarbons by landing on waste-water ponds at the refineries. They were then covered with or ingested deadly amounts of the oily pollutants.

In settling the case, ExxonMobil agreed to pay $400,000 in fines and $200,000 in community service payments, the Justice Department said. It also agreed to implement an environmental compliance plan during the next three years to prevent bird deaths at its plants in the five states. ExxonMobil has already spent over $2.5 million to begin implementation of the plan.

ExxonMobil already has a spotty environmental record, having caused the famed Valdez spill in 1989. That disaster, which resulted in the release of approximately 11 million gallons of crude oil in Alaska, was caused when the tanker struck a reef in Prince William Sound. It resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds and other animals. The company, which merged with Mobil in 1999, was the subject of numerous lawsuits as a result of the spill. Even now, twenty years after the disaster, several species in the area still have not recovered, according to the American Bird Conservatory.
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