History repeats itself. Boy does it.
This was never more evident than after I finished reading Charles Wohlforth’s The Fate of Nature (2010), which has a few ominous chapters dedicated to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Wohlforth was a journalist who covered the spill in the field and after reading his account, I was humbled by the realization that none of my observations of the BP oil spill were orignal. The landscape is almost exactly the same, except for the fact that BP is going to wind up paying less money for a bigger disaster and that photoshop didn’t exist yet, so Exxon couldn’t tamper photographs of their control room.
Wohlforth’s thoughts about the Exxon spill are in blockquotes:
As I spent more time on the sound, in the oil, the press conferences and carnival of activity in Valdez seemed increasingly irrelevant and disconnected from reality. Exxon officials always announced numbers — miles of boom, numbers of skimmers, million of dollars spent — facts that, if they meant anything at all, couldn’t be checked.
When the workers began landing on oiled beaches they were given oil-absorbent rages to wipe off individual rocks.”
In the Gulf of Mexico, it’s paper towels and saltmarshes.
A man said that taking an Exxon paycheck for doing nothing was his way of punishing the company.”
I heard one fisherman in the Vessel of Opportunity program say that the BP oil spill was God’s way of redistributing wealth.
Did the cleanup as a whole do more harm than good? The question is unanswerable without defining good. It benefited Exxon and its competitive corporate-government paradigm. Cleaning eliminated most visible evidence of oil. The effort took so long world attention turned to other issues and anger faded. A diminished Prince William Sound became the new baseline for the next generation of people. Today the spill has passed into history and Exxon still rules the world. Good also, perhaps, from the point of view of human users of the beaches, since the cleanup may have hastened the time when they felt safe eating clams, fish, and seals again. Cleaning probably shortened the the time active contamination affected some species. But if good is defined as the total health of the ecosystem, it’s probably that much less cleaning would have been better. Oil would have been dispersed anyway, more slowly but without the cleanup’s many environmental costs. And more of the visible black asphalt would have remained, biologically inert but a powerful warning about the costs companies like Exxon impose on our shared birthright. Cleaning removed the evidence, but not the damage.
BP has used more than 1.8 million gallons of dispersant.
“…Kindhearted television viewers were instead dealt the ahppy ending of seeing treated animals released, as if cured, rather than images of terminally disabled otters being euthanized. By denying them the truth, the Fish and Wildlife Service compounded the harm of the oil spill.”
BP allows a lot of media access, but it’s the kind of media they want. At the rehabilitation center, reporters can watch oiled birds getting clean. They can’t see them dead (see photo; that’s a crime scene and apparently not media worthy).
Exxon sent checks to vessel owners who had volunteered in the clean up. An average boat chartered for $3,000 a day, almost all profit, since expenses were paid separately by Exxon. As the boats stayed out for weeks and month, often with hardly anything to do, life-changing sums of money accumulated; owners of big boats, or of more than one, became spillionaires.
Yep. This is true, too.
Note: the Center for American Progress also has some excellent posts that compare the two oil spills and analyze how Exxon managed to make money and avoid punishment after their spill.