Exxon Valdez Damages Lawsuit Drags Into 2015

More than 25 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, federal litigation revolving around part of the original 1991 billion-dollar settlement with Exxon continues to drag on.

Documents posted on Nov. 10 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility show that the US Justice Department and state of Alaska are once again asking for more time for completion on environmental studies.
Meanwhile, some of those 11 million gallons of crude oil released into Prince William Sound after the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989, still linger, in the aftermath of one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters in history.

The ongoing litigation revolves around part of the original settlement with Exxon calling for an additional payment of up to $100 million for environmental damages unknown at the time of the settlement.

PEER notes that in 2006, the federal and state governments jointly submitted a demand that the oil company pay $92 million to fund recovery for these injuries, an amount that has since grown to nearly $130 million with annual 5 percent interest.

Yet this “reopener” claim has yet to be collected by the governments.
In the intervening years, both the federal and state governments have claimed to be waiting for completion of environmental studies.

Time may be running out on the reopener claim.

The 2010 termination of the tolling agreement between the governments and Exxon triggered a six-year period of limitation on any reopener claim that expires on June 24, 2016, PEER notes. If the governments do not act by then, Exxon may be able to legally block any belated claim.

This past March, both governments filed a status report stating “the last of these scientific reports nears completion and public release.” Then on Oct. 15, the governments cited further delays in evaluating “the feasibility of employing potential remediation alternatives, notably bioremediation, tilling and removal, at all beaches where lingering oil has been found or is expected.”

Now they are proposing to file their next update “by June 30, 2015, or at such earlier date as the governments have additional, significant information to report.”

PEER board member Rick Steiner, of Anchorage, is a retired University of Alaska professor who attempted to intervene in 2010 to break the logjam in this case.

Although Exxon has not paid the 2006 demand, as it had agreed in 1991, and certainly should, the government restoration fund still has some $200 million in it with which they should have used to begin implementing the plan, Steiner said.

“They say they have begun to do so, but are ‘still studying’ the issue,” he said. And while the court continues to express its frustration and indignation, it does not act- which is precisely what I had asked the court to do with motions in 2010, 2011 and 2013,” he said.