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Beware the Sirens of Big Oil

Riki Ott, a rare combination of commercial salmon “fisherm’am” and PhD marine biologist (and author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill), knows very well the impacts of oil companies’ broken promises. She lived in Alaska when the Exxon Valdez, in 1989, spilled most of its cargo and despoiled thousands of miles of shore, and experienced firsthand the oil industry’s 20-year trail of pollution and deception that predated the tragic spill–not to mention the disruption to the fishing community of Cordova, Alaska over the following 19 years. And still the fight persists. From The Huffington Post:
Cordova, Alaska. In the early 1970s, Big Oil wooed Alaskans with a seductive chorus promising jobs, riches, and risk-free oil development, pipeline transfer, and tanker transport. Alaska politicians fell under its spell. Today Big Oil generates more than 85 percent of Alaska’s operating revenues – and the song has changed. The tune is now militant and strident, as the industry demands ever more opportunity to drill and ever less regulation. This “opportunity” comes at the expense of deeply rooted indigenous cultures, family lifestyles, and businesses like commercial fishing and tourism that rely on Alaska’s abundant natural resources. But the same enchanting Siren music once tailored to Alaskans is currently playing for Floridians, Californians, and others who live on our seacoasts. From my perspective as a survivor of North America’s largest oil spill–the 1989 Exxon Valdez–it seems too many politicians are falling under its spell. My advice to coastal residents in the Lower 48: Take heed. We learned the hard way that Big Oil’s promises were good only until authorizing laws were passed and permits approved. The industry promised, for instance, in the early 1970s to double hull its tankers to minimize the risk of spills. But it will take until 2015 – more than 40 years – for it to make good on this promise. That’s too late for those of us in Prince William Sound. Ironically, too, 2015 will arrive long before the last of the toxic oil that spilled from the single-hulled Exxon Valdez is gone from our beaches–and long before our herring even begin to recover. credit: 2009 Dave Janka. Relatively unweathered Exxon Valdez oil from the 1989 spill 20 years ago lingers just beneath the surface of beaches in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The buried oil has delayed recovery of the ecosystem as it is often encountered by wildlife such as sea otters and sea ducks that forage for shellfish on intertidal beaches. The once thriving multi-million dollar herring fisheries are nonexistent and the wildlife that feed on herring–well, it will recover whenever the herring recover. Maybe. Scientists make no promises.

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