What Happens After an Oil Spill

What Happens After an Oil Spill July 17, 2013

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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