ISBN: 9781933392585 Year Added to Catalog: 2007 Book Format: Paperback Book Art: Black and White Photos Dimensions: 6 x 9 Number of Pages: 360 Book Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing Release Date: October 20, 2008 Web Product ID: 375
Also in Nature & Environment
Not One Drop
Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Los Angeles Times By Nicole Santa Cruz and Julie Cart
May 26, 2010
Some fishermen who have been hired by BP to clean up the gulf oil spill say they have become ill after working long hours near waters fouled with oil and dispersant, prompting a Louisiana lawmaker to call on the federal government to open mobile clinics in rural areas to treat them.
The fishermen report severe headaches, dizziness, nausea and difficulty breathing. Concerned by the reports, Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking the agency's help providing medical treatment, especially in Plaquemines Parish, a southern region where many fishermen live.
Melancon said he expected BP to fund the clinics, but his spokeswoman said Tuesday the company had not responded to last week's request for financial assistance.
George Jackson, 53, has been fishing since he was 12 and took a BP cleanup job after the massive oil spill forced the closure of fisheries and left him unemployed. As he was laying containment booms Sunday, he said, a dark substance floating on the water made his eyes burn.
By design, Sarah Palin has been all over the national media in the last couple of weeks, since the publication of her book, Going Rogue: An American Life (New York: HaperCollins, 2009). Since her nomination as John McCain’s running mate, Palin has had a major impact on the public consciousness. In the process, she has given many people from the Lower 48 their first serious look at our 49th state, and their first chance to watch a talented Alaskan woman in political action.
Another Alaskan woman, a contemporary of Palin, provides a fascinating counterpoint to the story Palin tells. Riki Ott, perhaps a decade older than Palin, came to Alaska as a young adult in the mid-1980s, while Palin was just a toddler in 1964 when her parents brought her. Ott. with a doctoral degree in marine toxicogy, settled in the fishing town of Cordova and took up the fishing life. Her book, Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008), is the story of how that 1989 spill tore her community apart, and how the people of Cordova fought back over 20 years.
While Ott focuses her entire book on the struggle for justice in the Exxon Valdez case, Palin devotes just four pages (59-62) to the entire 20-year saga, though she claims that it crystallized her resolve to enter public service. Ott tells of the community’s struggle; Palin tells us about hers. Palin’s political story spans the same years as Ott’s, but you would hardly know that they were talking about the same place.
Both tell of disillusionment. Ott started out accepting Exxon’s assurances that “not one drop” of oil would spill in Prince William Sound, only to learn of gross negligence and determined avoidance of responsibility. She gave up fishing and lost her marriage in order to use her education and leadership skills in service to her community.
Ott revieves award from Alaska Center for Environment
July 01, 2009 at 12:15PM AKST
Author/activist Riki Ott was honored with the Alaska Center for the Environment’s Ocean Champion 2009 award at the Ocean Film Festival in Anchorage in June.
The Alaska Center for the Environment (ACE) is Alaska‘s largest homegrown citizen’s group working for the sensible stewardship of Alaska’s natural environment. With 7,000 dues-paying members from throughout the state, Alaska Center for the Environment works to protect wild places, foster sustainable communities and promote recreational opportunities.
Since 2003, the Alaska Center for the Environment has hosted the Alaska Ocean Festival on the Delaney Park Strip in downtown Anchorage. This year, the festival drew more than 8,000 attendees interested in celebrating the diversity of the oceans and in learning more about ocean advocacy and marine conservation.
Each year during the Alaska Ocean Festival, ACE recognizes one outstanding Alaskan who has made a significant contribution toward making the oceans cleaner and safer.
This year, ACE named Ott as the 2009 Alaska Ocean Festival Ocean Champion.
ACE executive director Toby Smith thought Ott was a perfect fit for the award. “Riki has persistently fought to make whole both the waters and people damaged in Prince William Sound 20 years ago,” Smith said.
“Her fateful prediction of a huge spill, immediately preceding the actual tragedy, is a clear indication of her insight into the dangers inherent in moving resources through fragile environments. The award, a custom stained glass work by local artist Lynn Dixon, was presented at the Alaska Ocean Festival by Smith in recognition of Ott’s tireless ocean conservation work
Ott was pleased and proud to win the award. “Very fun and quite a surprise. Winning awards like this give me a chance to talk about what I’ve been doing for the past seven months and why this is relevant now to Cordova -- human rights vs. corporate rights, specifically human health factors,” Ott said.
“Good news on the movie “Black Wave,” we’re getting our story out. It is a genuine need for me to have people understand what happened to us,” Ott said.
There’s an overarching sense of skepticism among Kitimat residents regarding oil companies.
That’s according to Gerald Amos, facilitator of a Friends of Wild Salmon hosted forum called Pipe Dreams held in several northwest communities recently.
He said the Kitimat session, held in the Riverlodge, was easily the most attended of the whole series, drawing in just over 100 residents.
The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would see the construction of a twin pipeline. One, a 36-inch pipe with a capacity of 525,000 barrels per day (bpd), would export petroleum from Alberta’s oil sands to Kitimat
A 20-inch pipe, with a capacity of 193,000 bpd, would carry condensate from Kitimat to the pipeline’s Alberta start line, Bruderheim, 1,173km away.
Speakers at the forums were Jennifer Grant, a policy analyst with the Pembina Institute, Eric Swanson, with the Dogwood Initiative based in Victoria, and Dr. Riki Ott, an environmental activist who saw first hand the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
“From the people that were there, I don’t think I would be too far removed in saying that there’s a lack of trust of this industry,” Amos told the Sentinel.
He noted Dr. Ott found that the situation that this region is facing now mirrors what was happening up in Alaska before the Exxon Valdez spill
“A lot of people are here because they enjoy the relatively pristine environment - at this point in time,” said Amos.
The amazing natural environment is what he wants to protect from oil interests and he also finds the current review process doesn’t provide a chance for the public to actually veto the project.
“That’s what’s at jeopardy and that’s what I’m personally so concerned about...the lack of opportunity for people to say yea or nay.”
That issue was one of many that Swanson noted through his presentation. Referring to the joint review panel which is in the process of being established to review the Northern Gateway project, he said that one flaw is the panel doesn’t ask if the project should happen, only how it should happen.
An ocean spill isn’t the only concern and equal weight was put on the idea of the pipelines themselves.
Pointing out it would cross the headwaters of the Morice River, Amos described that stream as a “critical vein” of the Skeena system.
A spill in the pipe there would mean effects would be felt in all the waterways downstream.
And it’s not safety measures or equipment that has the environmentalists worried - it’s human error.
“I think that people that were there appreciate the fact that you can have the best technology in the world, you can have the best safety measures in the world but if you examine the accidents, even going back to the Valdez ... it’s all human error,” said Amos.
He also pointed to the sinking of the Queen of the North.
Amos worries that at risk is his Haisla culture, specifically ocean harvesting.
He said Ott had developed a plan for communities that he hopes she will showcase at future forums.
Ott found that in the wake of the Valdez disaster, communities would fight among themselves to decide the next step. Her plan would minimize or eliminate that conflict and Amos said she has agreed to come to the area and visit First Nations communities for about two weeks to talk about it. No dates have been set yet.
Amos said such plans would be useful as First Nations already have suffered traumas since contact, for example residential schools.
Amos said it is important for communities along the pipeline to band together. “I think that people along the entire line need to find a way to have their voices connected so it’s a louder voice,” he said.
A participant at the Kitimat session has purchased a copy of the DVD Black Wave, a documentary on the Exxon Valdez spill and has donated it to the public library for anyone who might be interested.
Coming to the end of this series, I'm struck by how much Exxon learned -- and how little the rest of us did -- from the worst spill in our nation's history.
Yesterday I noted that one reason the Exxon Valdez story is still important 20 years later is that the disaster itself could easily happen again. However, another reason for the ongoing relevance of the lessons learned in Prince William Sound over the past two decades is that Exxon can convince the media and politicians that black is white. They did in Alaska, and they continue to do so all over the world.
The tamping down of information began immediately after the spill on March 24, 1989. Fishermen such as John Platt were paid by Exxon to help in the clean up efforts, but before they were hired they had to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
"I could not say or do anything that would be detrimental to Exxon," Platt recalled. "In other words, it was hush money."
Platt said he didn't talk to anyone at the time about the clean up process, for fear of losing the only job he could be sure of in that moment. He said he knew one man who did lose his temporary clean up job because he talked to the press.
The story of the Exxon Valdez oil spill was a complex and unprecedented one, and reporters who flocked to Alaska to cover the story for far away national outlets were easily confused. Riki Ott, an Alaskan marine biologist and fisherwoman, was called in at the scene and saw firsthand how Exxon whitewashed the story for the media and the American public. She documents in her 2008 book the lies Exxon told about everything from the amount of oil spilled to the success of clean up efforts.
But the lies didn't stop in 1989. Exxon continually brought its own scientists to conduct studies on Prince William Sound, with their most recent, undated "report" appearing to be from 2005. The company's scientists repeatedly reported no long-term damage, despite the fact that everyone else -- from government to private to nonprofit experts -- disagreed with their assertions.
The company caused untold death and destruction, and denied responsibility at every turn. Even their failed clean up efforts ended in misery. Clean up workers are still sick from the dangerous chemicals Exxon used to burnish its image (the efforts failed to actually restore Prince William Sound, but succeeded in forcing the oil and toxic materials underground, where the public couldn't see it). Some workers are suffering from respiratory and neurological disorders to this day. Others have died from restoration-related illnesses.
Still, the story never seems to stick. Exxon is still the world's largest publicly-traded international oil company and continues to make record profits year after year. Platt calls Exxon "the Teflon corporation," and is frustrated by the amount of influence the company exudes.
"It's a sad, sad comment" on society, Platt said. "[Exxon is] basically setting policy, molding our judicial system -- I don‘t know. It‘s almost gotten to the point -- it makes me scratch my head -- they as a corporation have more rights than that of the individual."
But also, Exxon has mastered the art of playing people off of each other. They did that in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez disaster, handing out jobs to select Alaskans to help clean up. Alyeska, the alliance of oil corporations -- including Exxon -- that was formed to push the building of the Alaska pipeline in the early 1970s, co-opted community leaders and organizations that were once advocates for North Slope Alaskans, ostensibly paying these groups to study the disaster and restore the Sound.
One tactic that seems carbon copied from Big Oil's experience in Prince William Sound is the latest push for oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and for offshore drilling. When Alyeska ran into opposition to the pipeline from fishermen, Native Americans and environmental groups, they relied on current events and public opinion to get what they wanted.