Exxon Celebrates Valdez Oil Spill  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Greg Palast reports that Exxon has escaped almost scot-free for the Valdez oil spill, successfully delaying paying up for 20 years until it found a court willing to help them avoid paying compensation to the victims.

Twenty years after Exxon Valdez slimed over one thousand miles of Alaskan beaches, the company has yet to pay the $5 billion in punitive damages awarded by the jury. And now they won't have to. The Supreme Court today cut Exxon's liability by 90% to half a billion. It's so cheap, it's like a permit to spill.

Exxon knew this would happen. Right after the spill, I was brought to Alaska by the Natives whose Prince William Sound islands, livelihoods, and their food source was contaminated by Exxon crude. My assignment: to investigate oil company frauds that led to to the disaster. There were plenty.

But before we brought charges, the Natives hoped to settle with the oil company, to receive just enough compensation to buy some boats and rebuild their island villages to withstand what would be a decade of trying to survive in a polluted ecological death zone.

In San Diego, I met with Exxon's US production chief, Otto Harrison, who said, "Admit it; the oil spill's the best thing to happen" to the Natives.

His company offered the Natives pennies on the dollar. The oil men added a cruel threat: take it or leave it and wait twenty years to get even the pennies. Exxon is immortal - but Natives die. And they did. A third of the Native fishermen and seal hunters I worked with are dead. Now their families will collect one tenth of their award, two decades too late.

In today's ruling, Supreme Court Justice David Souter wrote that Exxon's recklessness was ''profitless'' - so the company shouldn't have to pay punitive damages. Profitless, Mr. Souter? Exxon and its oil shipping partners saved billions - BILLIONS - by operating for sixteen years without the oil spill safety equipment they promised, in writing, under oath and by contract.

The official story is, "Drunken Skipper Hits Reef." But don't believe it, Mr. Souter. Alaska's Native lands and coastline were destroyed by a systematic fraud motivated by profit-crazed penny-pinching.

Here's the unreported story, the one you won't get tonight on the Petroleum Broadcast System:

It begins in 1969 when big shots from Humble Oil and ARCO (now known as Exxon and British Petroleum) met with the Chugach Natives, owners of the most valuable parcel of land on the planet: Valdez Port, the only conceivable terminus for a pipeline that would handle a trillion dollars in crude oil.

These Alaskan natives ultimately agreed to sell the Exxon consortium this astronomically valuable patch of land -- for a single dollar.

The Natives refused cash. Rather, in 1969, they asked only that the oil companies promise to protect their Prince William Sound fishing and seal hunting grounds from oil.

In 1971, Exxon and partners agreed to place the Natives' specific list of safeguards into federal law. These commitments to safety reassured enough Congressmen for the oil group to win, by one vote, the right to ship oil from Valdez. The oil companies repeated their promises under oath to the US Congress.

The spill disaster was the result of Exxon and partners breaking every one of those promises - cynically, systematically, disastrously, in the fifteen years leading up to the spill. ...

The cover story of the Drunken Captain serves the oil industry well. It falsely presents America's greatest environmental disaster as a tale of human frailty, a one-time accident. But broken radar, missing equipment, phantom spill teams, faked tests -- the profit-driven disregard of the law -- made the spill an inevitability, not an accident.

Yet Big Oil tells us, as they plead to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, as Senator John McCain calls for drilling off the shores of the Lower 48, it can't happen again.

They promise.

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