ExxonMobil tries to avoid paying for new remediation efforts
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal scientists say oil from the Exxon Valdez spill more than 20 years ago is still affecting coastal ecosystems in Alaska and requires more restoration efforts — But Exxon (now ExxonMobil) attorneys are asking a federal court to release the company from any additional financial liability for the spill.
According to recent documents filed with U.S. District Court in Alaska, some of the oil that gushed from the busted tanker is degrading more slowly than anticipated and remains as a toxic exposure threat to to sea otters, harlequin ducks and other animals using intertidal habitats.
According to the latest court filings, discovery of the oil raises several questions that must be addressed before finalizing the details of a restoration plan, including the location and extent of the oil, factors limiting natural degradation and a quest for new technologies to accelerate the degradation and dispersal of the residue.
For example, a pilot study tested the feasibility of a new bioremediation technique that introduces nutrients and oxygen below the surface of the beaches to better reach the remnant oil. But all that cost money, and ExxonMobil claims it has met its obligations under the 20-old $1 billion settlement.
In 2006, the State of Alaska and the U.S. Department of Justice submitted an additional demand for $92 million to implement a restoration plan for this unanticipated eco-damage. To-date, the oil company has not paid and now says it will not.
“The coastal ecosystem injured by the Exxon Valdez spill is still a long way from full recovery,” said Rick Steiner, a PEER Board member and retired University of Alaska professor who is participating in the current case. “The persistence of crude in the environment for decades after the Alaska spill has profound implications for restoring the Gulf of Mexico, which just suffered a spill nearly 20 times larger.”
For the past two years, Steiner and the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility have pressed the governments to move forward on collecting the money to pay for additional restoration efforts, The Justice Department has maintained that is awaiting the outcome of further studies – a position it repeated in court filings last month.
“The Reopener for Unknown Injury provision was intended to address unanticipated, long-term injuries, precisely as government-commissioned scientific studies have identified,” Steiner said. “But necessary restoration cannot take place if the funds remain in Exxon’s bank account.”
ExxonMobil contend it is finished paying for clean-up under terms of the settlement and any lingering oil is clean-up not restoration envisioned by the Reopener claim. The company also argues that the time for pursuing any Reopener claim has expired.
“We are concerned that the Justice Department may have dithered away $92 million in needed restoration funds for Alaskan habitat that has still not recovered from a massive insult,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who is also asking Justice Department to make these further studies public and to disclose when the rest of the research will be completed. “We also want to make sure that the lessons from the Exxon Valdez settlement, both good and bad, are put to use as the even bigger mess in the Gulf is addressed.”
Documents courtesy Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility:
- Read the government claims of lingering oil
- See latest ExxonMobil motion to avoid further liability
- Look at the Reopener claim
Filed under: Environment, Summit County news Tagged: | Alaska, Exxon Valdez cleanup, Exxon Valdez court case, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Exxon Valdez spill, ExxonMobil, Prince William Sound, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility