Exxon Corp. is urging consumers not to boycott its gasoline stations as a way of protesting the Alaskan oil spill, saying in newspaper ads Friday that such action only hurts independent dealers who are not to blame.

"Most Exxon stations are privately owned small businesses," Exxon said in advertisements placed in The New York Times and other major papers."The oil spill in Alaska was not their fault."

Consumer groups and state politicians have urged a boycott of Exxon gasoline to protest the oil spill caused when the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound five weeks ago, creating the nation's worst spill.

Exxon has just under 12,400 service stations in the United States, only a small portion of which are company-owned.

It said in the ads that a boycott would not help clean up the spill, "but it is going to hurt a lot of small businessmen in your community - and their families and employees.

"They have nothing to do with the accident in Alaska, but they're taking the brunt of the anger. And they stand to lose income at the same time.

"Truth is, it's not their fault. We at Exxon Corporation recognize our responsibility, and we are doing everything in our power to clean up the spill," the company said.

Exxon told oil analysts at a meeting this week that the boycott had no impact on sales. Two weeks ago it said 6,000 out of 7 million Exxon credit cards had been returned to the company.

One Pennsyvania dealer who owns a number of Exxon branded gas stations said the boycott had not hurt sales, and said he did not expect it to in the future.

"You don't usually vote when you buy gasoline," the dealer said. "You're really thinking about filling up your tank."

The dealer also said there was more anger over the rise in gasoline prices, which coincided with the oil spill, than over the accident itself.

Despite possible harm to independent dealers, protesters said they would press ahead with their boycott.

"Of course the dealers are not at fault, but there's no other way to get at Exxon," said Ed Rothschild, energy policy director at Citizens Action, a Washington-based federation of 25 state consumer groups backing the protest action.

"The fact that most of gasoline is sold through leased dealerships is an unfortunate circumstance," he said, "but Exxon is insulated from direct activity."

Some environmental groups have endorsed the boycott, but others have not, saying the spill has more to do with the issue of drilling in Alaska than with Exxon. A protest is planned against Exxon on May 2.