A recent study reveals that Alaska is still being damaged by Exxon. Almost 18 years have passed since the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground and fouled hundreds of miles of Alaska shoreline. Today, lingering crude from the nation’s largest oil spill has weathered only slightly in some places, according to a new federal study that was released recently. The estimated 85 tons – more than 26,600 gallons – of oil remaining at Prince William Sound are declining at a rate of only about 4% a year. The rate of decline is likely even slower in the Gulf of Alaska. At that rate of decline, oil could persist for decades below the surface of some beaches, according to the report. The study, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was published in Environmental Science & Technology, the journal of the American Chemical Society. Researchers wrote in their conclusion:
Such persistence can pose a contact hazard to intertidally foraging sea otters, sea ducks, and shorebirds, create a chronic source of low-level contamination, discourage subsistence in a region where use is heavy, and degrade the wilderness character of protected lands.
Many of us have forgotten what actually happened back in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez ran aground, emptying 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. The spill contaminated more than 1,200 miles of shoreline and killed hundreds of thousands of seabirds and marine animals. Earlier research from other spills had revealed that oil could hold toxins for years if embedded in oxygen-depleted sediments where minimal weather-caused disintegration occurs. In the Valdez spill study, researchers found that thick, emulsified oil – called “oil mousse” – resists weathering and thus can be preserved in oxygen-containing sediments.
As we have reported, Exxon still has not paid the punitive damage judgment, originally set for $5 billion by a federal jury in 1994. The case has been in the federal court system for over 12 years now. In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the powerful oil giant must pay $2.5 billion to compensate thousands of fishermen and others affected by the spill. Predictably, Exxon has asked the court to reconsider its decision.
John Devens, executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, said Exxon’s prolonged stalling was “unconscionable” considering the social, economic and environmental damages. His observation about this politically powerful corporation pretty well sums things up:
It’s very difficult to understand why Exxon isn’t a better industrial citizen.
More and more folks around the country are beginning to share the same opinion about ExxonMobil as that of Mr. Devens and others who have dealt with this company. I can say, based on my personal experience with this company, that it has an arrogant corporate mentality with no respect for our country’s judicial system.
Sources: Houston Chronicle and Associated Press
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