Court Rewards Exxon for Valdez Spill
By Greg Palast, Chicago Tribune 226/6/08
Jun 26, 2008 - 8:05:34 AM
knew this would happen. Right after the spill, I was brought to Alaska by the
Natives whose Prince William Sound islands, livelihoods, and their food source was
contaminated by Exxon crude. My assignment: to investigate oil company frauds
that led to to the disaster. There were plenty.
before we brought charges, the Natives hoped to settle with the oil company, to
receive just enough compensation to buy some boats and rebuild their island
villages to withstand what would be a decade of trying to survive in a polluted
ecological death zone.
San Diego, I met with Exxon's US production chief, Otto Harrison, who said,
"Admit it; the oil spill's the best thing to happen" to the Natives.
company offered the Natives pennies on the dollar. The oil men added a cruel
threat: take it or leave it and wait twenty years to get even the pennies.
Exxon is immortal - but Natives die.
they did. A third of the Native fishermen and seal hunters I worked with are
dead. Now their families will collect one tenth of their award, two decades too
today's ruling, Supreme Court Justice David Souter wrote that Exxon's
recklessness was ''profitless'' - so the company shouldn't have to pay punitive
damages. Profitless, Mr. Souter? Exxon and it's oil shipping partners saved
billions - BILLIONS - by operating for sixteen years without the oil spill
safety equipment they promised, in writing, under oath and by contract.
official story is, "Drunken Skipper Hits Reef." But don't believe it,
Mr. Souter. Alaska's Native lands and coastline were destroyed by a systematic
fraud motivated by profit-crazed penny-pinching. Here's the unreported story,
the one you won't get tonight on the Petroleum Broadcast System:
begins in 1969 when big shots from Humble Oil and ARCO (now known as Exxon and
British Petroleum) met with the Chugach Natives, owners of the most valuable
parcel of land on the planet: Valdez Port, the only conceivable terminus for a
pipeline that would handle a trillion dollars in crude oil.
Alaskan natives ultimately agreed to sell the Exxon consortium this
astronomically valuable patch of land -- for a single dollar. The Natives
refused cash. Rather, in 1969, they asked only that the oil companies promise
to protect their Prince William Sound fishing and seal hunting grounds from
1971, Exxon and partners agreed to place the Natives' specific list of
safeguards into federal law. These commitment to safety reassured enough
Congressmen for the oil group to win, by one vote, the right to ship oil from
oil companies repeated their promises under oath to the US Congress.
spill disaster was the result of Exxon and partners breaking every one of those
promises - cynically, systematically, disastrously, in the fifteen years
leading up to the spill.
the drunken skipper fable. As to Captain Joe Hazelwood, he was below decks,
sleeping off his bender. At the helm, the third mate would never have collided
with Bligh Reef had he looked at his Raycas radar. But the radar was not turned
on. In fact, the tanker's radar was left broken and disasbled for more than a
year before the disaster, and Exxon management knew it. It was just too
expensive to fix and operate.
the Chugach, this discovery was poignantly ironic. On their list of safety
demands in return for Valdez was "state-of-the-art" on-ship radar.
discovered more, but because of the labyrinthine ways of litigation, little
became public, especially about the reckless acts of the industry consortium,
Alyeska, which controls the Alaska Pipeline.
smaller oil spills before the Exxon Valdez could have warned of a system
breakdown. But a former Senior Lab Technician with Alyeska, Erlene Blake,
told our investigators that management routinely ordered her to toss out
test samples of water evidencing spilled oil. She was ordered to refill
the test tubes with a bucket of clean sea water called, "The Miracle
a secret meeting in April 1988, Alyeska Vice-President T.L. Polasek
confidentially warned the oil group executives that, because Alyeska had
never purchased promised safety equipment, it was simply "not
possible" to contain an oil spill past the Valdez Narrows -- exactly
where the Exxon Valdez ran aground 10 months later.
Natives demanded (and law requires) that the shippers maintain round-
the-clock oil spill response teams. Alyeska hired the Natives, especiallly
qualified by their generations-old knowledge of the Sound, for this
emergency work. They trained to drop from helicopters into the water with
special equipment to contain an oil slick at a moments notice. But in
1979, quietly, Alyeska fired them all. To deflect inquisitive state
inspectors, the oil consortium created sham teams, listing names of oil
terminal workers who had not the foggiest idea how to use spill equipment
which, in any event, was missing, broken or existed only on paper.
1989, when the oil poured from the tanker, there was no Native response team,
twenty years after the oil washed over the Chugach beaches, you can kick over a
rock and it will smell like an old gas station.
cover story of the Drunken Captain serves the oil industry well. It falsely
presents America's greatest environmental disaster as a tale of human frailty,
a one-time accident. But broken radar, missing equipment, phantom spill teams,
faked tests -- the profit-driven disregard of the law -- made the spill an
inevitability, not an accident.
Big Oil tells us, as they plead to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife
Reserve, as Senator John McCain calls for drilling off the shores of the Lower
48, it can't happen again. They promise.
Source: Ocnus.net 2008