It's Corporate Personhood Destruction Deja Vu All Over Again: Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
The Exxon/Valdez and many other smaller spills, just relatively, have foretold our fate if we don't seize the toxic large global corporations from running the planet into the ground.
"Having read quite a few books focusing on various disasters in this nation during the past century it certainly comes as no surprise to me that nearly two decades after the calamity in Prince William Sound the people of Cordova, Alaska have yet to be made whole. In my reading I consistantly found that the investigation of these events is more often than not perverted by corporate collusion, broken promises, curious judicial rulings and paid off politicians. It seems that the rich and powerful will resort to any means at their disposal to avoid taking responsibility for their greed, negligence and stupidity. "Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill" is the gut-wrenching story of lost livelihoods, broken families, shattered dreams and a spoiled environment. Author Riki Ott visited Cordova just a few short years before the spill, fell in love with the place and decided to make this town her permanent home.
Read the whole article here.
American Library Association
May 1, 2009
Not One Drop is a gripping story of what happened in Cordova, a small fishing village of some 2,500 people, as a result of the 11 million gallons of oil spilled from the Exxon Valdez tanker into Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989. Developed from interviews with townspeople, state and federal officials, and politicians, this book describes a classic case of the worst of commercialism versus the best of environmentalism, with the former aided and abetted by those with vested interests. Beginning with a description of marine biologist Ott's idyllic but demanding life in commercial fishing, the four subsequent parts of the work, "Promises," "Betrayal," "Courage," and "New Beginnings," provide a comprehensive inventory of the events that devastated the social fabric of Cordova. The superbly detailed "Timeline" covers the 1968 discovery of oil on the Alaska North Slope up to the June 25, 2008, Supreme Court decision limiting punitive damages from the spill. The book includes color photographs of happy and sad times as well as ones showing oil-slicked waterfowl and humans, many of whom suffered from a respiratory condition known as "Valdez Crud." Detailed listing of supporting notes and excellent index. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels of readership.
—E. J. Kormondy chancellor-emeritus, University of Hawaii at Hilo
19 June 2009
Open Thread - Brian Must Be a Muckraker Magnet
I had the great good fortune to meet Dr. Riki Ott last week. She is the author of the book Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, and won Cook Inletkeeper’s Muckraker of the Year award in 2008. I’ve wanted to meet her for a long time, and she’s just as great as I had imagined. That doesn’t often happen.
She is also working hard at another interesting project that you can read about at the website Ultimate Civics. The goal is to bring into creation the 28th amendment to the constitution. I won’t spoil the fun by telling you. Click on the link. I think you’ll like it. A lot.
Read the whole article here.
Riki Ott’s Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill is something truly special. Of course we’re pleased to offer another selection from one of our favorite publishers, Chelsea Green, who preach the “politics and practice of sustainable living.” But Ott’s engaging dissection of the 1989 ecological disaster in Alaska is unique in both style and substance.
If you could create the perfect person to write about the Exxon Valdez spill, you’d come up with Ott. As a marine biologist, she studied the effects of oil pollution on the environment and wildlife. She settled in Cordova, making a living fishing the Prince William Sound before the spill. She was called in to help with the Exxon Valdez disaster immediately, seeing the damage firsthand and dealing with Exxon’s lies in court for nearly two decades. And finally, she has the trust of Alaskans affected by the spill, a group that has lost their faith in government, industry and the judiciary.
Ott takes both a historic and holistic approach to the story of Exxon in Alaska. She details the prescience of environmentalists, fishermen and native people in their initial protest over the potentially unsafe, poorly-regulated pipeline in the 1970s (the title of the book refers to former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ ridiculous promise that “not one drop” of oil would make its way into Prince William Sound). She reports the actual disaster right from the shore and the legal battles from inside the courtroom. She digs deep into the psychological trauma caused by the spill in her own life as well as the tragic lives of her fellow townspeople. She explains the environmental damage with scientific authority, but in a way us laymen can easily understand.
Where other writers might end with lament, Ott finishes with an action plan for how to make sure this kind of disaster won’t happen again. She explains how regulation and legislation can better protect our environment. She details the necessary changes to our judicial system to make sure companies can’t bleed communities dry like Exxon did to Cordova. And she urges the return to human civic values, instead of corporate profits, as the only way to build a sustainable culture.
The Exxon Valdez disaster was tragic at the time and continues to be a blight upon the history of this nation 20 years later. But valuable lessons about the true effects of oil on the environment, the holes in our judicial system and the follies of treating corporations like individuals also came out of the spill. Not knowing the back story to the Exxon Valdez disaster is a handicap to truly understanding corporatism, the true price of oil and our nation as a whole. Take some time on the anniversary of this paradigm-shifting event to get to know Exxon and Cordova, AK.
by Laura Sanders
March 28th, 2009; Vol.175 #7 (p. 30)
Just as Katrina was more than a hurricane, the Exxon Valdez disaster was more than an oil spill, writes marine biologist and “fisherma’am” Riki Ott. In this account, Ott traces the forces that led up to what she calls “The Big One,” and chronicles the tragic environmental, personal and legal fallout from the spill.
Just before midnight on March 23, 1989, the fully loaded tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s vibrant Prince William Sound, belching millions of gallons of crude into the water. Hours after the tanker crashed, Ott flew over deep blue water and pinkish white mountains on the way to witness the spill. “Juxtaposed against this beautiful calmness lies the stricken tanker, blood red and bleeding inky black,” Ott describes. “The strong vapors make our heads and stomachs reel.”
The unprecedented oil spill is viewed through the lens of Cordova, a small fishing community and Ott’s home, on the edge of the sound. After the spill, Cordova’s economy collapsed as herring and salmon disappeared. Residents watched helplessly as Exxon bungled the cleanup operation, broke promises to compensate residents and vehemently fought lawsuits in and out of court, Ott writes.
The book concludes as a June 2008 Supreme Court decision reduces the punitive award against Exxon to less than 10 percent of the original $5 billion settlement.
Not One Drop is written in a familiar and nontechnical tone, more a historical narrative than a scientific explanation of the damage from the spill. At times Ott lapses into didacticism. Even so, the book offers a personal glimpse of all that was lost underneath the oil slick.
Reviewed by Frank Kaminski
Tuesday, January 13th, 2009 at 10:22 pm
Riki Ott’s book Not One Drop is a history of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, told from the perspective of those most affected by it. Cutting through the cloak of willful deception, public relations campaigns and skewed, corporate-sponsored science, it finally exposes the truth about Exxon Valdez’s devastating effects on the city of Cordova, Alaska, the fishing community where the spill struck.
On a broader level, the book also makes yet another compelling case for weaning off fossil fuels. In making this case, Ott does more than simply invoke the threat of future catastrophic oil spills. She also, refreshingly, points to the growing consensuses about both climate change and the peaking of world oil production (issues that aren’t often discussed together). Further, she highlights new studies suggesting that insidious carbon emissions from our tailpipes and power plants have long been contributing to a broad range of health problems. In short, her argument for getting off oil is a powerful one of unusual scope, even if it is rightly subordinated to the story of Cordova.
Ott is a marine biologist by training, and her dream had always been to write books about science intended for the general population. The route that ultimately led her to that destination couldn’t have been less likely.
A freshly minted Ph.D. in the summer of 1985, she needed to take a break from her academic work, and so she spent the entire summer crewing on a salmon fishing boat up in Alaska—a place she’d always wanted to visit. She immediately fell in love with Cordova, its culture and people, and also with the wilds of pristine Prince William Sound. What began as a summer adventure evolved into an ardent, abiding commitment to this astonishing place.
Ott quickly became a prominent Cordova “fisherma’am” and an advocate for fishermen’s issues. Because commercial fishing and big oil are so deeply intertwined in Alaskan politics, Ott’s involvement in fishing politics inevitably led her to an investigation of shady practices by the major oil companies operating out of the Sound. For instance, she helped uncover how, even long before Exxon Valdez, oil companies had been deliberately polluting waterways through a loophole in the Clean Water Act. In the years that followed, Ott became “the Erin Brockovich of the Exxon Valdez disaster,” to quote Fran Korten of YES! magazine.* And indeed, the comparison is quite apt. Although her research, advising, testimony at hearings and drafting of legislation may have been done on a completely voluntary basis, she nonetheless was truly a force with which to be reckoned.
In telling us her story, Ott revels in the way she made herself a thorn in oilmen’s sides simply by bringing out the facts. Her war stories are unfailingly riveting and often very funny. Unable to buy or intimidate this determined, pugnacious, resourceful, lone woman, oilmen quickly realized that they had no idea just what to do with her. Their desperation led to measures as drastic as hiring off-duty cops to stand guard at an Exxon shareholder meeting at which she was present, and duping her into an arrest and a day in jail.
On a more solemn note, the two-decades-long saga of environmental devastation, ruined livelihoods, broken marriages, stunted lives, failing health and vicious litigation stemming from the Exxon Valdez spill is both heartbreaking and infuriating. Ott’s premise is that most people have been kept ignorant of this story. In the book’s introduction, she writes, “There is an unfulfilled need among spill survivors to have other people understand what happened to us…This story is an attempt to fill that need.”
In demonstrating how Exxon misled the public, she cites a formidable array of reports, journal articles, books, newspaper stories and firsthand accounts. She shows how the corporation soft-pedaled the extent of the spill and claimed that it was all cleaned up when it wasn’t. How it submitted beaches to a brutal steam cleaning, even when it knew full well that this technique scalded beach life and sickened cleanup workers. How it denied citizens’ groups access to cleanup sites—and how, when these groups finally were allowed to see beaches for themselves, they were appalled by Exxon’s deceptive public relations. How it hired scientists to conclude that life was once again thriving in the Sound (using statistical sleight of hand like pooling data and taking biased samples), while simultaneously attempting to suppress all other scientific evidence gathered during lawsuits that arose from the spill.
But worst of all, Ott chronicles how Exxon promised to make the people of Cordova “whole” again, but then proceeded to fight the $5 billion punitive award in court for nearly 20 years, until the amount had been slashed to a measly $507 million. In that time, more than 6,000 claimants had died without any closure, and untold numbers had reached the brink of bankruptcy, foreclosures and abject financial servitude because the damage done to their way of life by the collapse of the Sound’s fisheries was never repaid.
Moreover, the very social fabric of the community had come undone as Cordova devolved into what sociologists refer to as a “corrosive community,” one too divided by fighting and strife to engage in collective decision-making. Cases of diagnosed anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder surged, along with domestic violence and alcohol abuse. There was even one high-profile case of suicide, in which the suicide note specifically mentioned the trauma of dealing with Exxon as a motivating factor. The litigation process only acted as a “secondary disaster,” preventing people from moving on with their lives. Perhaps most tellingly, sociologists came to consider Cordova a case study on how to help communities in general to work through disaster.
Ott stresses that while Cordovans are definitely on the road to recovery, Exxon Valdez is still very alive for them. Exxon seemed to go out of its way to leave the tragedy unresolved, through two decades of legal stalling and a refusal to accept liability for a punitive award that would truly make Cordovans whole. Thus, Ott’s unflinching exposé could hardly be a more honorable attempt to give these people the closure that they so desperately need.
But Not One Drop is far more than simply an attempt to bring closure to Cordovans by communicating the extent of their loss to others. It is also an attempt to spell out the lessons learned from this disaster, so that it won’t be repeated. Ott concludes that our legal system no longer works in cases like that of Exxon Valdez, since it allows corporations to exercise constitutional rights that were originally intended for people. In the book’s final chapters, she goes into great detail about the kinds of reforms that will be necessary in order to prevent this abuse of the legal system from continuing into the future.
Not One Drop is a heroic book. It is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the calamitous consequences of our society’s addiction to oil, or of corporations’ ability to avert punishment by claiming “corporate personhood.”
* “Chelsea Green Bookstore : Nature & Environment : Not One Drop,” Chelsea Green, http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/not_one_drop:paperback/praise/ (accessed Jan. 13, 2009).
Ott, a former Prince William Sound fisherman and longtime activist around the Exxon Valdez Alaska oil spill of 1989, pours plenty of passion into this exhaustive account of the financial and psychological toll on the residents of Cordova, the town most affected by the disaster. Her book is a scathing indictment of Exxon's take-no-prisoners legal roadblocks. She enumerates the full horror of the spill's aftermath: the 1989 loss of $50 million in fishery revenue, a botched cleanup effort, the onslaught of oil-company lobbyists and continuing fish habitat degradation. Ott focuses on Cordova's struggle to rebuild a sense of community while coping with personal bankruptcies and failing marriages, and covers the legal skirmishing for compensation for the more than 3,000 fishermen who filed claims, closing with a melancholy coda following the Supreme Court's decision to reduce the original jury award against Exxon from more than $5 billion to about $500 million—"devastating news” for those “whose lives entered a state of turmoil some 19 years ago.” Though Ott's narrative is often bogged down with too much detail, she covers an enormous amount of ground with engaging humanity. (Nov.)