Exxon Valdez disaster- 15 years of lies

Feature story - 24 March, 2004
It is fifteen years since the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill, which saw 11 million gallons of oil pouring into a pristine wilderness area in Prince William Sound, Alaska. US oil giant ExxonMobil should come clean about the true state of the site of the spill as new research shows that the Sound is still suffering from adverse effects of the massive oil pollution.

Close up of the oil still present 15 years after the original spill.

In 1991 ExxonMobil pleaded guilty to breaking several environmental laws and settled criminal and civil lawsuits of over US$1 billion. This was the most extensive attempt in human history to mitigate the environmental damage caused by an industrial disaster.

Since then ExxonMobil/Esso, the world's leading oil company, has used its vast financial power and influence to avoid taking responsibility. The company has dragged out the battle over the additional US$5 billion punitive damages awarded against it and has stated that it intends to see the decision "overturned." Yet at the same time, the oil giant

is suing Greenpeace and 36 individuals who peacefully entered ExxonMobil's headquarter in Texas to protest against the company's position on climate change.

In the early 1990s, ExxonMobil funded research that claimed the Sound was well on its way to recovery. But new scientific research, conducted over the last 14 years, states the opposite. The latest study, published in Science magazine, concluded that far from having recovered the Sound area continues to experience problems as a result of oil remaining from the spill.

With 500 miles of the coastline covered in oil just within the Sound area, mortality in the aftermath of the spill was particularly high, with sea otter, sea bird and harbour seal populations hit hard. Contrary to ExxonMobil's research, oil is still present in the Sound and has remained 'persistently toxic', resulting in long-term impacts on fish, sea otters and sea ducks.

Deliberate misinformation campaign

Dennis Kelso, Commissioner of Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation argues that ExxonMobil's statements following the spill were "part of a deliberate misinformation campaign," a position supported by marine scientist Professor Rick Steiner, who believes that ExxonMobil "has constructed its own 'reality' of the spill - minimal impacts and rapid recovery."

"ExxonMobil's tactics are well-known, and this is a classic case of deny, dupe and delay," said Greenpeace Campaigner Anita Goldsmith. "Just as it denies the science on climate change, it denies that oil from the spill is causing damage in the Sound. And on both issues it is running a campaign to dupe the public into thinking it's an environmentally and socially responsible corporation. As long as ExxonMobil continues this way, Greenpeace will continue to campaign around the world to expose it."

Paying for research to support its argument and to misinform the public is nothing new to ExxonMobil. It has funded research in legal and academic journals that supports the company argument that juries are not competent to rule in punitive damage cases like the Exxon Valdez. This research is an attempt to effect a change in legislation that would enable ExxonMobil to succeed in its attempts to 'overturn' the punitive damages award. The company also runs an organised campaign to demolish accepted science on climate change. At a time when the world is suffering the consequences of changing weather, droughts, floods etc ExxonMobil argues that more research is needed before taking action.

ExxonMobil's version of the Exxon Valdez oil spill is a history of lies, a legacy that the company pursues in its activities today.

Take action!

Tell Exxon to drop its suit against Greenpeace, and pick up its own mess.

Don't buy Esso.

Don't buy Exxon/Mobil.

Spank Exxon/Mobil! game.

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