Today on NPR's All Things Considered, the monetary, ecological, economical and legal impacts of 1989's Exxon Valdez Oil Spill were examined before the case makes it's way to the Supreme Court later this week. The spill, the worst in North American history, littered Alaska's Prince William Sound with nearly 11 million gallons of heavy crude oil and spread to 3000 square miles damaging the once profitable fishing area. Since then, Exxon has payed 3.5 billion dollars in restitution and fines; however, many residents of towns like Cordova, Alaska, have not received any sort of compensation from the company that claimed "We will make you whole again."
Even more disturbing than Exxon's claims that the Sound is completely restored and lingering oil poses no ecological threat, are shocking studies revealing the true long term effects of the spill. The area has seen a large scale natural dissipation of the heavy crude due to tides and storms, but one researcher claims true recovery will not be seen even by the end of this century. Jeff Short, a Natural Oceanic and Atmospheric researcher, claims even he was shocked to learn that the oil residues under the water's surface in intertidal areas is not much different chemically than the summer of 1989- right after the spill occured. Although it remains unknown just how much impact the spill had on the ecosystem, closed fisheries and decaying ecology are symptoms of the continuing damage to the area.
Since the spill legislation, including OPA, the Oil Protection Act, has been passed to prevent such a catastrophe from occuring again. The Act has created new protected habitats and forces all freighters to maintain and defend oil spill response contingency plans. The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether Exxon has indeed provided full financial restitution to the residents and businesses of Prince William Sound by this summer.
You can listen to this story at npr.org or directly at www.npr.org/template/story/story.php?storyId=18316968.