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Ten Years after Exxon Valdez disaster


The scientific debate continues over the environmental consequences of what happened just after midnight on Good Friday, March 24, 1989, when the grounded vessel leaked nearly 11 million gallons of North Slope crude. But the disaster’s effects on people are clear — and dramatically mixed. Some communities and individuals have flourished. Others still suffer. Some may wither away. ( )

Alaska Native settlements, such as this tiny fishing village tucked in an island cove, struggle with damage to culture and loss of population because of the spill, losses that can’t be measured or mitigated with money. Before the accident, life in this settlement of 48 revolved around a culture of subsistence. Villagers fished, hunted and harvested the bounty of a landscape where their people have lived for thousands of years. But when the oil hit the bays and beaches of Prince William Sound, it disrupted the natural balance.

Now, villagers say, the kelp beds where they gathered herring eggs, a staple of their traditional diet, haven’t recovered. Nor has the population of harbor seals, a major source of meat and hides. Shellfish, which accumulate toxic hydrocarbons from the spilled oil, remain suspect, even when scientists say many are safe to eat again. ( )

Just as alarming to this village is the fact that Chenega Bay families are slowly dropping out of the community, lured away by jobs in the oil-terminal port of Valdez, 90 miles to the northeast.

Ironically, the jobs are with an oil industry team of rescuers and escort vessels created after the spill to prevent future catastrophes. ( )

The lingering pain of the Exxon Valdez spill also reaches 85 miles east of here to Cordova, a picturesque coastal port where commercial fishermen are still reeling from the loss of income and markets after the oil wiped out fish eggs, polluted salmon streams and canceled fishing seasons. The value of commercial fishing permits, which once practically guaranteed a good life, college for the kids and a comfortable retirement, has plunged as much as 90%.( )

Waiting on damages

Many of Cordova’s 2,500 residents stew over Exxon’s unwillingness to pay them $5.2 billion that fishermen, natives and others won in punitive damages in a 1994 federal court judgment. They say the money could help mend their frayed economy and salve scarred psyches. Exxon, which argues that those damages in the class-action civil case are wildly excessive, is in the fifth year of its appeal. Both sides await a hearing later this year before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. ( )

An around-the-clock safety network to avoid future spills is now based in Valdez. The Ship Escort/Response Vessel System, a multimillion-dollar assemblage of boats, equipment and

people, has added 300 good-paying jobs in a city of 4,500 people. ( )

Seward, ringed by snow-capped mountains and just a three-hour drive from Anchorage, boasts the new $56 million Alaska SeaLife Center, more than half of it paid for with money from Exxon’s $1 billion settlement of federal and state claims over damage from the spill. On a point overlooking Resurrection Bay, the center is a showcase for the study of marine mammals, birds and fish, a rehabilitation center for injured wildlife, and a busy tourist attraction. ( )

Such infusions of money and new jobs aren’t always popular with Alaska Natives, who see some of the changes as costly to their cherished culture. Efforts to buy more coastal properties as permanent havens for wildlife threatened by the spill have upset some villagers because the lands being sold are theirs. Using some of the Exxon settlement money, the state and federal governments’ Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has bought more than 635,000 acres of Alaska Native lands. The purchases enrich the tribal corporations that sell the properties. But the purchases have split some native communities because those holdings were originally acquired after long, hard battles for native rights.

“Ownership of land is power. This is the death knell of what we worked for,” says Eyak corporation member Sylvia Lange, 46, of Cordova, whose people are selling 75,000 of their 148,000 acres.

Ten years later, the accident has left more than memories of 1,500 miles of blackened beaches, hundreds of thousands of dead birds and a slick that spread 500 miles beyond the sound. ( )

Environmental sociologist J. Steven Picou of the University of South Alabama, who has studied Prince William Sound’s residents extensively, says that in 1997, 40% of commercial fishermen in Cordova still had symptoms of severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. ( )

Atop all that, the polluting of a world-class salmon fishery rearranged markets and demand for the sound’s catch. “People didn’t want to buy salmon out of an oiled fishery,” says Minneapolis lawyer Brian O’Neill, lead lawyer in the class-action case against Exxon. “These guys just lost shelf space permanently.” Despite gradual recovery of local fishery stocks, salmon from the sound is still tainted by the bad publicity, if not by the oil. ( )

Phil Lian, 59, a third-generation Alaskan, lost his fishing net supply business, then his marriage, in Cordova’s economic and social upheaval. Lian, who also was a fisherman, is one of more than 30,000 residents of the sound who might claim a share of the $5.2 billion court judgment against Exxon. Unless the oil company pays up, “I’m retiring on welfare,” he says. Although efforts are under way to diversify the town’s economy, “we’re all walking wounded,” says bookstore owner Kelley Weaverling, 52, who was Cordova’s mayor in 1991-93. “The social fabric of this community was just pulled and stretched and torn.”

His predecessor as mayor committed suicide, in part because of the spill. “He had his ashes spread on Bligh Reef,” Weaverling says quietly. ( )

“It smells just like it spilled yesterday,” says Evanoff, using a kitchen spoon to scrape black sludge from beneath a rock. She tars her hands filling a Ziploc bag with the thick gunk to show off at a 10th anniversary symposium in Anchorage.

“On a good, hot, sunny day, it just oozes out like a bad sore, which it is,” she adds. “It’s like living in a septic tank. What can live in this stuff, I ask you?” ( )

From U.S.A Today ten years after Exxon Valdez disaster +

Sources :




Who is responsible ? ?

In the light of the case we studied in class and the research I ve made through the net on the consequences of the Exxon oil spill, it seems to be quite clear that Exxon is fully responsible for what happened. Of course, the captain made a huge mistake and didn t respect the code, but what could Exxon expect from a man caught several times for drinking problems ?

The mistake the captain did, reflects the lack of responsibility, organization and credibility of the company. It s really unbelievable to imagine that a company as big as Exxon took so few serious decisions. The company is responsible for the people it employs because the mistakes their employees can make have serious consequences on the company. The staff of a company is part of the internal environment risks of the company, and every company need to have a dedicated code of conduct and be responsible of who does what. Have we ever seen on stock market based companies, a unqualified person taking care of a $125 millions portfolio ? By evaluating, even quickly, the potential risks that the captain represented, a responsible company wouldn t have let him cruise on the most expensive boat, in one of the hardest area, with 11 millions gallons of oil.

How can we define a company ? basically, a company is a structure, controlled by men and women who are in charge to run the business correctly in order to win money. A company is made hierarchically, some Men are responsible of one or many people. This is how a company works and how the company s culture is often build. Therefore, Exxon is responsible because some of their logically qualified people chose the captain, an unqualified person. The environment of the company is really important, specially for big companies that have a direct link with major social interest such as ecology, economy Therefore, Exxon is supposed to evaluate correctly what kind of risks they face in order to choose the correct solutions and the most qualified persons. This need to be done for the company s own interest (Exxon is expected to pay about 5.2 billion for a recruiting error ).

Regarding also the results 10 years later, reinforce the idea that the company is fully responsible. The company is not building a good communication crisis which could have resulted in reducing its negative image. As we can see, the company doesn t want to pay the $5.2 billion dollars which means that the company seems to consider that :

T$5.2 billion is too much compared to the trauma created

That the company is not fully responsible

That the psycho-sociological consequences are less important than victims pretend

That the company have done enough to solve the problem

Furthermore, the company is trying to control the population by offering jobs, buying lands, and indirectly developing other form of economy (tourism) to compensate the loss of the fish industry. Why does the company reacts like that ? well, I think that the company only cares about the consequences that the State of Alaska and the government is able and might impose to it. The civilians doesn t have any power except trying to ruin Exxon s image, but this have a few consequences on the company s profit because oil is necessary and a few people choose a gas station instead of another one only according to their image. Most often, they only look at the prices. So the best for Exxon was effectively to try dealing as much as possible, with the main authorities which is easier, cheaper (because you can pay in nature like infrastructures ) and helps controlling people.

In conclusion, we could say that the captain is responsible for the crash but that the crash wouldn t have happened if the company has evaluated correctly the risks of choosing this captain. On a first look, we can consider that the captain is the direct cause of the accident and the company is the indirect cause. However, when we know that such accidents are easy to prevent with a minimum of responsibility, we can t doubt that the company is directly responsible of the accident because a company is responsible of its employees. The captain is then the direct consequence of a lack of responsibility and objectivity of the company, and the accident a indirect consequence of the same reasons.

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