Clean fight worth fighting when it comes to oil spill


Posted: Friday, March 24, 2006

it’s good to see that in some areas history has not repeated itself.

It was 17 years ago today when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, leaking 11 million gallons of oil and causing the biggest spill in U.S. history.

The spill story is still timely because a provision in the 1991 settlement agreement between ExxonMobil Corp. and the federal and state governments says Exxon may have to pay up to $100 million in unanticipated damages from the spill.

A “reopener” left a window of opportunity for the state to claim the money. All we have to do is prove a population, habitat or species has suffered loss or decline in the area of the spill, and the loss can be linked to the spill.

Not a problem, according to Nancy Bird, president and chief executive of the Prince William Sound Science Center, who says there are two reasons to justify the reopener: Prince William Sound’s Pacific herring population continues to be depressed and there is lingering oil in the region.

The center wants any money received from the claim to pay for two programs that could go on for 50 years or longer. One would study and monitor the long-term effects of lingering oil on the marine environment. The other would be for a herring research and restoration program.

It’s clear there are still reasons enough to encourage Gov. Frank Murkowski and the U.S. Attorney’s office to make the claim, which has to be made by June 2.

June isn’t that far away, really.

The effects of the spill have left a mark on not only the environment and our wildlife, but volunteers have been showing signs of illness related to exposure.

Sadly, the damage that was done March 24, 1989, doesn’t appear to be going away.

And although nothing can ever replace what’s been killed, ruined or damaged, what has evolved is a safer future, not only for Southcentral Alaska, but also for the state.

The rules and regulations have changed, tankers are being tracked by satellite, escorted through narrows, partially navigated by trained marine pilots, required to be double-hulled — all positive changes, as we witnessed when a tanker in Nikiski was swept away from its dock by ice floes in February.

Without these changes, Cook Inlet could be in trouble right now.

For 17 years, we have been fortunate enough not to repeat the tragedy. It’s clear we have learned valuable lessons from the Exxon Valdez disaster. The cost was great — for nature, man and Exxon. But as long as the damage lingers, there is still work to do to clean it up.

The state needs to seize this opportunity to stake its claim in making the best of a sticky situation that’s gone on far too long. Let’s hope those who are making the decision take into account the battle for this victory needs to be a clean fight.

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