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Arkansas Hires Notorious Private Contractor With History of Cover-Ups To Oversee Clean Up Mayflower Tar Sands Spill

Witt O'Brien's has had its hands in the botched clean-up efforts of almost every high-profile oil spill disaster in recent U.S. history.


Arkansas' Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has contracted out the "independent analysis of the cleanup" of the  ExxonMobil Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill to Witt O'Brien's, a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups, a DeSmogBlog investigation reveals. 

At his April 10 press conference about the Mayflower spill response, AG McDaniel confirmed that  Exxon had turned over 12,500 pages of documentsto his office resulting from a subpoena related to Exxon's response to the March 29 Pegasus disaster. A  22-foot gash in the 65-year-old pipeline  spewed over 500,000 gallons of tar sands dilbit through the streets of Mayflower, AR. 

McDaniel also provided the media  with a presser explaining that his office had"retained the assistance of Witt O’Brien’s, a firm whose experts will immediately begin an independent analysis of the cleanup process." 

Witt O'Brien's  describes itself as a "global leader in preparedness, crisis management and disaster response and recovery with the depth of experience and capability to provide services across the crisis and disaster life cycle."

But the firm's actual performance record isn't quite so glowing.  O'Brien's has had its hands in the botched clean-up efforts of almost every high-profile oil spill disaster in recent U.S. history, including the Exxon Valdez spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy. 

Most troubling of all, Witt O'Brien's won a " $300k+ contract to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project" in Aug. 2008.

Thus, if the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline inevitably suffered a major spill, Witt O'Brien's would presumably handle the cleanup. That should worry everyone along the proposed KXL route.

From OOPS, Inc. to Witt O'Brien's

In Dec. 2012, Witt Associates  merged with O’Brien’s Response Management to form Witt O’Brien’s. The merger at-large is owned by Seacor Holdings.

O'Brien's was formed in the early 1980s by Jim O'Brien - a former U.S. Coast Guard officer - as  O'Brien Oil Pollution Service, otherwise known by OOPS, Inc. That's not a joke, it was their actual name.

OOPs, Inc. was acquired by Seacor Holdings Inc. under the auspices of Seacor Environmental Services division in 1997, later renamed The O'Brien's Group (TOG). TOG was later re-named O’Brien’s Response Management Inc. in Oct. 2008. 

Importantly, in Dec. 2009, O'Brien's acquired a powerful public relations spin machine wing, as its  former website explains:

In December of 2009, O’Brien’s completed the successful acquisition of PIER (Public Information Emergency Response) Systems Inc., a crisis communications company that has developed the PIER software application, an all-in-one, web-based solution for communications management, public relations, media monitoring, employee notification, and business continuity.

Witt Associates, meanwhile, was founded by  James Witt, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under President Bill Clinton who also served Gov. Clinton in Arkansas as head of the state's Office of Emergency Services. He started  Witt Associates upon leaving his Clinton Administration post.  

Oil and Gas Industry Ties Run Deep at Witt O'Brien's

Many of Witt O'Brien's clients are oil and gas industry giants and many of its employees formerly worked for the industry.

Tim O'Leary, its Vice President of Communications,  formerly worked for Shell Oil's Media Relations and Crisis Management team. Don Costanzo, Senior Vice President Business Applications at Witt O'Brien's, formerly had a client list that included BP, ExxonMobil and Shell during his time spent as head of Renfroe & Company, according to his LinkedIn page.

Steve Candito, President and CEO of National Response Corporation (NRC), is a former ExxonMobil employee, serving as a marine engineer aboard its domestic tanker fleet from 1980-1985. He is a "member of the Boards of Directors of various SEACOR Environmental Services entities (which owns Witt O'Brien's),"  according to his biographical sketch on the NRC webpage

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