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Exxon Valdez 25 Years Later

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Alaskans Highlight Lessons Learned, Continuing Risks
Thursday, March 20, 2014
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Virginia Cramer, 804-519-8449

Exxon Valdez 25 Years Later

Alaskans Highlight Lessons Learned, Continuing Risks

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Alaskan community members, along with oil spill, climate and offshore drilling experts, gathered today in Washington, D.C. to mark the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster.  On March 24, 1989, the Exxon tanker spilled more than 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, coating 1,300 miles of shoreline – about the length of California’s coast. Twenty-five years later the environment and the local economy have still not recovered, and plans for new offshore drilling in the dangerous Arctic waters show that few lessons have been learned. 

“Our wild fishing way of life collapsed overnight. Herring and wild salmon runs disappeared and have never fully recovered. The herring fishery was 50% of our annual income and provided food and jobs for our families. So, what have we learned in the last 25 years? I know that no matter where an oil spill happens, industry and government can't clean it up, no matter what they say or try to make the public believe. I also learned that preservation is the key to restoration of any kind, whether it is endangered habitat, culture or Native languages,” said Eyak Native Dune Lankard, a commercial and subsistence fisherman.

The oil spill took a devastating toll on wildlife, from shorebirds and the nearly $300 million herring fishery. More than half of the wildlife populations, habitats, and resource services injured in the spill have yet to be considered “recovered” by the government.  Many animal populations are considered “not recovering” today, including herring and the AT1 pod of orca whales, which is expected to go extinct.

The disaster illustrated the difficulty of cleaning up an oil spill in Arctic conditions, and forebodes future offshore drilling disasters where the risk of oil spills is inevitable. Despite this, plans continue to move forward to drill in the Arctic Ocean.

“Shell Oil’s 2012-2013 Arctic program was a disaster, its mishaps culminating with its drilling rig running aground near Kodiak Island, Alaska. It was forced to abandon its plans to drill this summer because of its own lack of preparedness and technical failures. Shell has only proven that no oil company is ready to drill in the Arctic’s harsh and unpredictable climate,” said Cindy Shogan, Executive Director, Alaska Wilderness League.

“The take-home lesson from Exxon Valdez is this:  if we genuinely care about a coastal or marine area, such as the Arctic Ocean or Bristol Bay, we should not expose it to the dangerous risks of oil development.  Even with the best safeguards possible, spills will undoubtedly occur. And when they do, they can’t be cleaned up; they can cause long-term, even permanent, ecological injury; human communities can be devastated; and restoration is impossible. This would be particularly true of a major spill in ice-covered waters of the Arctic Ocean,” said Rick Steiner, a professor and international oil spill expert involved with the Exxon Valdez oil spill clean-up and restoration.

Drilling in the Arctic Ocean also poses significant climate risks. Developing dirty energy there could result in twice as much carbon pollution as will be saved by the Obama administration’s new fuel economy standards, cancelling out our country’s greatest accomplishments in the fight against climate disruption.

“It’s time to learn the lessons of the Exxon Valdez. Since this accident, we’ve witnessed the BP spill in the Gulf, Enbridge’s pipeline in Michigan, coal waste spills across Appalachia and countless other disasters. Our addiction to the dirty energy that’s fueling climate change continues to come at a tremendous environmental cost," said Gene Karpinski, League of Conservation Voters President.

“The poor history of our dependence on dirty energy is clear, as are the benefits of choosing the cleaner path forward,” said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection campaign. “Dirty fuels need to be left in the ground, and the Obama administration can start by placing a moratorium on leasing and development in the Arctic Ocean.”

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