Exxon Mobil is sure doing its best to prevent journalists from covering the recent oil spill from its Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark. Some reporters say the oil giant has even threatened to have them arrested for merely entering the spill site.

Unfortunately for journalists, a pliant county sheriff’s office has shown it’s all too willing to help Exxon out.

Michael Hibblen, the news director for NPR affiliate KUAR, recounted to Mother Jones what happened to him and other media personnel when they attempted to visit the spill site with Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on Wednesday:

It was less than 90 seconds before suddenly the sheriff’s deputies started yelling that all the media people had to leave, that ExxonMobil had decided they don’t want you here, you have to leave. They even referred to it as “Exxon Media”…Some reporters were like, “Who made this decision? Who can we talk to?” The sheriff’s deputies started saying, “You have to leave. You have 10 seconds to leave or you will be arrested.”

InsideClimate News

reporter Lisa Song also said she was threatened with arrest after entering the command center for the cleanup operation while trying to locate representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation. After being told by Exxon spokeswoman Kim Jordan to leave, she was approached by a second person who told her, “You’ve been asked by security to leave. If you don’t you’ll be arrested for criminal trespass.”

Song reported earlier in the week that it was Exxon–not the federal government–that was essentially controlling the spill site, even as the White House said the EPA was the on-scene coordinator.

A warehouse next to highway I-40 here at the edge of Mayflower, Ark., houses the command center for the ongoing cleanup of thousands of barrels of spilled Canadian heavy oil, but it is inaccessible to media.

Tightly controlled by ExxonMobil, which was responsible for the spill, access to even the parking lot is not permitted. A security guard now stops anyone without a red lanyard and ID badge from passing into the gated compound.

…The stakes are high and Exxon is running the show here, with federal agencies so far publicly invisible. The phone number of the command center in Mayflower goes to an ExxonMobil answering service based in Texas, and each day it is Exxon that distributes a unified command press release—which contains the logos of Exxon, Faulkner County and the city of Mayflower—with official updates on the progress of the cleanup.

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— Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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