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People peddle products during disaster

By Tammy Keith

This article was originally published April 4, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. Updated April 3, 2013 at 11:17 a.m.

scott-smith-right-talks-with-two-exxon-mobil-officials-who-said-they-were-not-allowed-to-give-their-names-to-the-media-smith-of-cape-cod-mass-was-questioned-about-putting-a-foam-product-in-the-oily-stormwater-ditch-on-us-365-in-mayflower-smith-said-he-used-his-product-in-another-oil-spill-with-exxon-mobils-blessing-but-company-officials-said-they-did-not-give-him-permission-to-do-so-in-mayflower

Scott Smith, right, talks with two Exxon Mobil officials who said they were not allowed to give their names to the media. Smith, of Cape Cod, Mass., was questioned about putting a foam product in the oily stormwater ditch on U.S. 365 in Mayflower. Smith said he used his product in another oil spill with Exxon Mobil’s blessing, but company officials said they did not give him permission to do so in Mayflower.

Scott Smith of Cape Cod, Mass., stood on the shoulder of U.S. 365 in Mayflower on Monday and cast into the drainage ditch a piece of green foam fringe that looked like a hula skirt.

He recorded it with a digital camera and said it was attracting “tar-sand oil like a magnet.”

“I’m going to try to get this deployed where they need it,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, Exxon Mobil Corp. officials arrived and asked Smith to leave and fished the object out of the ditch.

“We’re going to dispose of it,” said an Exxon Mobil official, who did not want to give his name.

Although the man’s name was on a hard hat he was wearing, he said he would be “reprimanded” if his name was published.

The Exxon Mobil employee, a pipeliner who lives in Texas but who previously lived in Faulkner County, said his job is to make sure his crew works safely, to keep the public — and reporters — away from the oil spill and to refer media to the command center.

“I don’t know this guy,” the official said of Smith.

Smith’s business card listed him as president/CEO of Opflex Solutions of Massachusetts.

“Exxon called me,” he said while he was casting his product. Not for the Mayflower spill, he said, but for an oil spill on the Yellowstone River in Montana in 2011.

Because of that experience, Smith said, he left his home in Cape Cod at 3 a.m. Monday on a flight to make it to Mayflower that afternoon to help.

He had several of the Opflex products in the back of his vehicle.

“It absorbs 32 times its weight,” he said.

The Exxon Mobil employee said people come out of the woodwork during disasters. He said one man came and asked him to try his product, “some stuff he could sprinkle” on the oil to dry it up.

“There is a piece of our organization that only responds to vendor inquiries,” said Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson, local on-scene commander for the cleanup.

“I’ve got so many emails of people who want to do business here, people calling in: ‘My absorbent material works best. It’s only been rejected for political reasons,’” he said.

He said that in addition to 120 Exxon Mobil employees, there were state, federal and local representatives on the scene, and “they’re still ramping up.”

He said as of Monday, 12,000 barrels of oil and water have been vacuumed up.

“I don’t see them being done in less than a month,” he said of the cleanup.

The cause of the crude-oil underground pipeline rupture also won’t be known for some time, he said. The leak happened between two backyards of homes on a cul-de-sac in the Northwoods subdivision in Mayflower, he said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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