years after Exxon Valdez slimed over one thousand
miles of Alaskan beaches, the oily company has
yet to pay most of the damages awarded by the
jury. The $4 billion Exxon owes for "punitive"
damages is getting off easy: by Exxon's own calculation
it merely equals the cost of the damage they inflicted.
know. I worked for the native villages whose coastline
was oiled - IS oiled... the gunk is still there,
still deadly, no matter the mendacious Exxon mouthpieces
Exxon-Mobil, the Number One campaign contributor
to the George W. Bush campaigns, has gotten their
big fat sloppy payoff. Last week, the Bushified
appellate courts in Texas ordered the Alaskan
judge once again to review the award.
grinnin'. More delay. Which doesn't bother my
friend Paul Kompkoff of Chenega. The elderly sealhunter
passed away waiting for his compensation.
calls the Exxon Valdez an "accident."
Wasn't their fault.
my ass, it was ...
Well-Designed Disaster: The Untold Story of the
March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez broke open and
covered twelve hundred miles of Alaska's shoreline
with oily sludge.
official story remains "Drunken Skipper Hits
Reef." Don't believe it.
fact, when the ship hit, Captain Joe Hazelwood
was nowhere near the wheel, but belowdecks, sleeping
off his bender. The man left at the helm, the
third mate, would never have hit Bligh Reef had
he simply looked at his Raycas radar. But he could
not, because the radar was not turned on. The
complex Raycas system costs a lot to operate,
so frugal Exxon management left it broken and
useless for the entire year before the grounding.
land Exxon smeared and destroyed belongs to the
Chugach natives of the Prince William Sound. Within
days of the spill, the Chugach tribal corporation
asked me and my partner Lenora Stewart to investigate
allegations of fraud by Exxon and the little-known
"Alyeska" consortium. In three years'
digging, we followed a twenty-year train of doctored
safety records, illicit deals between oil company
chiefs, and programmatic harassment of witnesses.
And we documented the oil majors' brilliant success
in that old American sport, cheating the natives.
Our summary of evidence ran to four volumes. Virtually
none of it was reported:
media had turned off its radar. Here's a bit of
the story you've never been told:
We discovered an internal memo describing a closed,
top Level meeting of oil company executives in
Arizona held just ten months before the spill.
It was a meeting of the "Alyeska Owners Committee,"
the six-company combine that owns the Alaska pipeline
and most of the state's oil. In that meeting,
say the notes, the chief of their Valdez operations,
Theo Polasek, warned executives that containing
an oil spill "at the mid-point of Prince
William Sound not possible with present equipment"ˇexactly
where the Exxon Valdez grounded. Polasek needed
millions of dollars for spillcontainment equipment.
The law required it, the companies promised it
to regulators, then at the meeting, the proposed
spending was voted down. The oil company combine
had a cheaper plan to contain any spillˇdon't
bother. According to an internal memorandum, they'd
just drop some dispersants and walk away. That's
exactly what happened. "At the owners committee
meeting in Phoenix, it was decided that Alyeska
would provide immediate response to oil spills
in Valdez Arm and Valdez Narrows only" --
not the Prince William Sound.
Smaller spills before the Exxon disaster would
have alerted government watchdogs that the port's
oil-spill-containment system was not up to scratch.
But the oil group's lab technician, Erlene Blake,
told us that management routinely ordered her
to change test results to eliminate "oil-in-water"
readings. The procedure was simple, says Blake.
She was told to dump out oily water and refill
test tubes from a bucket of cleansed sea water,
which they called "the Miracle Barrel."
A confidential letter dated April 1984, fully
four years before the big spill, written by Captain
James Woodle, then the oil group's Valdez Port
commander, warns management that "Due to
a reduction in manning, age of equipment, limited
training and lack of personnel, serious doubt
exists that [we] would be able to contain and
clean up effectively a medium or large size oil
spill." Woodle told us there was a spill
at Valdez before the Exxon Valdez collision, though
not nearly as large. When he prepared to report
it to the government, his supervisor forced him
to take back the notice, with the Orwellian command,
"You made a mistake. This was not an oil
response to requests from readers here's a few
things you can do:
Stop pumping gas at ExxonMobil stations
- Get involved with the Stop
note: You can find this information and more about
the Exxon oil spill in Alaska in Pelast's book:
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,
which you can order directly from our website
by using the book link on the left. It's a fantastic
book and we recommend it highly.]
September 3, 2003