What Happens After an Oil Spill

In the wake of any large oil spill, the companies responsible often spend large amounts of money on TV commercials and other ads assuring local residents that they will take full responsibility and make sure that everything possible is done to clean them up. Let’s see how that works out in the long run.

According to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the U.S. Justice Department and State of Alaska say they are still waiting for long overdue scientific studies before collecting a final $92 million claim to implement the recovery plan for unanticipated harm to fish, wildlife and habitat.

Cleaning up the Exxon Valdez disaster took four summers and cost approximately $2 billion, according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. In 1991, Exxon reached a civil settlement with the U.S. government and the state of Alaska in which it agreed to pay $900 million in payments, a $25 million criminal fine and $100 million in restitution.

The plea agreement also contained a “reopener” window, during which governments could claim up to $100 million in additional payments from Exxon to restore resources that suffered a substantial loss or decline as a result of the oil spill and which were not foreseen at the time of the initial settlement.

In 1996, the federal government and the state of Alaska notified Exxon that, pursuant to the reopener, additional restoration would be necessary to address long-term environmental damages and clean up lingering oil, at an estimated cost of $92 million.

Fast-forward seven years, and ExxonMobil, the most profitable publicly traded company in the world, has yet to pay up — in fact, they’ve been fighting the claims all along. Last year, Exxon failed to persuade a federal judge to bar the U.S. and Alaskan governments from pursuing further damage claims related to the 1989 spill. In his order, U.S. District Judge H. Russell Holland wrote, “Exxon presently suffers no particular harm. Its business is not in any fashion disrupted or impeded because of the uncertainty of a claim by the governments.”

The same thing will happen — is already happening — with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And the Enbridge oil spill in Michigan in 2010. Crisis PR bullshit never matches up to reality and it isn’t intended to. It’s only intended to pacify people in the short term while they do everything they can to avoid taking responsibility.

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  • Look, this is about personal responsibility. The people who are so-called “harmed” by so-called “harmful” oil spills should’ve taken the personal responsibility to not live in such oil covered areas. And, anyway, this is America. If they feel harmed, they can take their grievance to court and, if they prevail their survivors might get some fraction of the restitution when the corporation eventually, partly, pays up. Heck, if anything, the so-called “spillers” should be suing them, for taking all that free oil.

  • Abby Normal

    We’re sorry

    Courtesy of South Park.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    Can’t remember where I read it but BP now has a hotline encouraging people to call to report damage claims fraud with a promise of a possible reward. I’m sure that won’t be abused in any way possible.

  • I was in Galveston, Texas about a week before Deepwater Horizon blew.

    To this day when I mention that to people — which is usually to tell them where I had the best seafood I’ve ever eaten — my phrase of choice is, “I was in Galveston about a week before BP decided to destroy the Gulf.” That might be a little over the top and not particularly nuanced, but it’s a lot easier than, “I was in Galveston about a week before BP’s negligence and greed culminated in the oil rig explosion that probably did permanent, long-term damage to the Gulf.”

    Oddly, nobody has ever called me on that.

  • davem

    While agreeing with the premise of this story , is the responsibility not also on those who want cheap oil to fuel their gas guzzlers? You want the oil companies to take extra special care? They can do that – all it requires is that you elect politicians who will pass laws to specify some proper standards of care, then require the companies to follow same. You will, however, be paying much more for oil. Is that OK by you? Mmmm, thought not.

  • So, in addition to having their downtown incinerated and 50 of their neighbours with it, the people of Lac Megantic are screwed on the cleanup, too? Because the oil that didn’t burn — which was a lot of it, apparently — soaked into the ground and ran into the lake. So much so that the personnel investigating the site and searching for human remains have to wear breathing gear against the fumes (doesn’t help that there’s a heat wave on the region this week).

  • rabokarabekian

    davem, yes that’s all perfectly fine by me.

  • ” You will, however, be paying much more for oil. Is that OK by you?”

    More than the costs of the three wars fought for Bigoil in the last twenty years?

    BP asked the judge in charge of the case to set aside their payments, temporarily.

    Lying ratfuckers.

  • thebookofdave

    @davem #5

    Fine for me too, as long as the extra costs are actually used to improve fuel efficiency standards, instead of shareholder and corporate officer bonuses. High gas prices might finally convince consumers to support development of renewable energy and counter their indifference to atmospheric carbon pollution.

  • caseloweraz

    I’ll second Rabokarabekian’s assessment: That would be fine by me.

    In fact, it will have to be fine with us, for BP will almost certainly pass along to its customers — or to the taxpayers — a major portion of the huge costs of its monumental screwups in Texas City, at the Macondo Prospect, and other places. These costs dwarf the ordinary expenses of creating proper documentation and keeping it up to date, or of maintaining equipment in good working order.

    Quite aside from government regulation, which is needed, there is a necessity for corporate managers* to accept the maxim that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. They’re supposed to be dedicated to the bottom line and maximum returns to their shareholders. How is it possible they don’t already accept it? How many disasters will it take to make it sink in?

    * I must add the disclaimer that this doesn’t apply to all managers, or even to the majority of them.

  • magistramarla

    Yeah, and the conservatives here in Texas are bragging about how great the economy is with all the fracking going on. I’m worried that the aquifer is going to be ruined before we can get out of this rat hole of a state in three years. There are already residents who are complaining of ruined water wells and increased health problems, but the fracking is going on in deep south Texas, where the residents are mostly poor and/or immigrants. Those big oil companies will be able to destroy all that they want, get out and get away with it.

  • sezme

    You will, however, be paying much more for oil. Is that OK by you? Mmmm, thought not.

    Wrong. Oil is, you must remember, a world wide commodity and the USA produces a very small part of overall production. So if costs go up, some marginal wells will be shut down and life will go on. Oil prices will vary but damn little, if any, of that fluctuation will be due to environmental rules in the USA.

  • francesc

    “You will, however, be paying much more for oil. Is that OK by you? Mmmm, thought not.”

    It would be ok by me. Although I’m not from the US.

    1.- In my country, most of oil’s cost comes from taxes

    2.- It wouldn’t be “much more for oil”, improving safety -expenses that BP was, in fact, cutting down- would mean a little fraction of oil’s cost

    3.- Production costs and selling costs are not as much linked as you think. In fact, oil’s cost has increased in the lasts years because of a limited production, caused by Irak’s war and that OPEP countries have asked for major profits, not as much because you have to dig deepper to get oil

  • Forget about taxing oil.

    Tax the cars.

    Cars taxed by their curb weight and milage figures (factoring for the difference between commercial and special purpose vehicles). Say, 100% on a pure speed machine? 75% on “muscle cars” (both the old and the new ones). Or is that another violation of the 2nd Amendment or something?

  • dingojack

    Demo – If one can commit vehicular homicide then a car must be a weapon….

    A 1967 Corvette would be the .357 Magnum of cars. Feelin’ lucky punk?

    😉 Dingo

  • kermit.

    democommie – no, please. While mass transit would be good, here in the US we are too spread out to fix that particular problem quickly. What will literally kill us before we have time to do this is the byproducts of fossil fuel burning. If we taxed oil we could bring it closer to its real cost, which is considerably more than Yanks pay at the pump. The cost will all too soon be the collapse of civilization and possible extinction. We need to move to electric cars, not no cars. We’ll fight the auto industry later.


    davem – yes, that would be fine, although as others have pointed out the cost at the pump has little to do with cleanup after spill costs. Besides, we are paying for those spills in less convenient ways, with the health of our children, our lives, global warming, and pretty much everything. Making oil obviously expensive would save us money, lives, and true wealth many times over by encouraging a move to renewable power production. Probably too little too late, but we have an obligation to do what we can.

  • “The cost will all too soon be the collapse of civilization and possible extinction. We need to move to electric cars, not no cars. We’ll fight the auto industry later.”

    The auto industry and the oil industry are inextricably intertwined, taxing either one will affect both. Regulation of multi-nationals is more important than anything else–and much less likely to happen.