Impact Lingers 25 Years After Exxon Valdez
Oil Spill Disaster

A quarter of a century after the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on March 24, 1989, causing more than 11 million gallons of crude oil to pollute Prince William Sound, environmental and legal issues still stir up controversy.

In Prince William Sound, still unresolved is the issue of toxic impact the spilled oil continues to have on fish, wildlife and the environment. The spill is still negatively impacting the sound’s coastal ecosystem.
In the courts, in the aftermath of the original 1991 $1 billion settlement, there is still no resolution on additional payments of up to $100 million for environmental damages that were unidentified at the time of the settlement.

The settlement included a consent decree with a “reopener” clause to allow state and federal governments to see more money for additional restoration work.

Federal District Judge H. Russel Holland told state and federal representatives on March 20 that the court expects scientific studies that the governments said were not yet completed to be completed by June, and if further proceedings in court become necessary that the parties propose a calendar for resolution of any legal issues as a first order of business.

Marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner, who was the University of Alaska marine advisor for Prince William Sound region at the time of the disaster, says the Exxon Valdez Reopener included in the 1991 decision “was a legal commitment” among the state, the federal government and Exxon, “and now all have betrayed that commitment.

“The betrayal of the Exxon Reopener calls into question the government’s claim that oil development in Alaska will be responsible. If the government will not even hold oil companies to their legal obligations to pay for environmental damage, then how can anyone trust them?” Steiner asked.

The Alaska Legislature is considering a resolution urging the state and federal governments to seek those additional damages from Exxon Mobil Corp.