Exxon Valdez disaster- an ongoing history of lies

Press release - 24 March, 2004
On the 15th anniversary of the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill, which saw 11 million gallons of oil being spilled into a pristine wilderness area in Alaska, Greenpeace demands that US oil giant ExxonMobil comes clean about the true state of Prince William Sound, the site of the spill.

Dr. Rick Steiner, Marine Biologist, University of Alaska, examines oil left from the Exxon Valdez oil spill 15 years later, at Rua Cove on Knight Island Alaska, 11 March 2004.

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

Since then ExxonMobil, the world's leading oil company, has used its vast financial power and influence to avoid taking responsibility, but should be held to account.. The company has dragged out the battle over the additional 5 billion USD punitive damages awarded against it and has stated that it intends to see the decision "overturned." [1] Yet at the same time, the oil giant is pursuing felony charges against 38 Greenpeace volunteers 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 [2] 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 suffering the most. Contrary to ExxonMobil's research, oil is still present in the Sound and has remained 'persistently toxic', resulting in long-term impacts in fish, sea otters and sea ducks.

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," [3] 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." [4]

"ExxonMobil's tactics are well-known, and this is a classic case of deny, dupe and delay, said Greenpeace International 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 campaigns to dupe the public into thinking it is an environmentally and socially responsible corporation. As long as ExxonMobil continues this way, Greenpeace will continue to campaign like the volunteers in Texas, 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 [5]. 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.

VVPR info: Photo Noemi Camara +31 6 46 16 20 19Video Hester van Meurs +31 6 29 00 11 35

Notes: [1] Exxon, 'Attorneys general ask Exxon to pay up', Anchorage Daily News, 13 May, 1999.[2] SCIENCE Magazine, 19 December 2003, Vol 302, 'Long-term Ecosystem Response to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill,' C.H.Peterson, S.D.Rice, J.W.Short, D.Esler, J.L.Bodkin, B.E.Ballachey, D.B.Irons.[3] Dennis Kelso, quoted in 'Critics Fault Exxon', Christian Science Monitor, 14 June, 1989.[4]Professor Rick Steiner in, The Truth about The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, by Prof. Rick Steiner and Dr. Riki Ott, November 16 1993.[5]Washington Post, Friday December 2003, "Exxon Funded Research Into Jury Awards", Alan Zarembo, 26 December 2003