Exxon Valdez environmental scandal continues


This video from the USA is called Worker Safety Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Alaska 1989.

By Ed Atkinson:

The Exxon Valdez ruling: the Supreme Court once again defends big business

2 July 2008

On June 25, the next-to-last day of the current term, the United States Supreme Court slashed the punitive damages judgment for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which devastated Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The award was reduced from $2.5 billion to only $507.5 million—an amount equivalent to a few days’ profit for the giant oil company.

Exxon Mobil Corporation paid more than $1 billion to settle state and federal claims for environmental damages. The company went to trial in 1994, however, against a class action suit by over 32,000 individuals and small businesses devastated by the accident, predominantly commercial fishermen, native Alaskans and local landowners, who claimed that Exxon’s reckless conduct caused the accident.

Exxon conceded fault, and the compensatory damages for the class were set at $507.5 million. The trial then proceeded on the issue of punitive damages only.

The evidence showed that on March 23, 1989, the tanker left port carrying 53 million barrels of crude oil from the Trans-Alaska pipeline. Its captain, Joseph Hazlewood, had recently completed an alcohol rehabilitation program. His superiors knew about Hazlewood’s problem, learned that he had relapsed recently, and even drank with him.

Witnesses testified that before leaving port Hazlewood consumed five double-vodka drinks, an amount that would have rendered any non-alcoholic unconscious. When tested by the Coast Guard 11 hours after the accident Hazlewood still had a blood-alcohol level of .061, meaning that during the wreck his level was about three times the legal limit for driving a car.

As the ship approached a well-known reef, Hazlewood set the autopilot, increased speed and turned the ship over to a subordinate unlicensed to perform the maneuver necessary to avoid running aground. The Exxon Valdez hit the reef, spilling crude oil into Prince William Sound. Hazlewood then tried to “rock” the ship free, a procedure that spewed more oil and risked killing the crew.

The result was the largest oil spill in US history: 11 million gallons covering 11,000 square miles, including 1,300 miles of pristine shoreline. The spill devastated the local economy as well as the environment. Estimated losses in the sport fishing industry alone were almost $600 million over the two years following the accident. Within days an estimated 250,000 seabirds perished, along with thousands of otters and seals. Despite billions of dollars in cleanup, the environmental effects of the spill still linger. Much of the oil seeped below the surface of affected beaches, decaying at a rate of about three to four percent per year. Animals that dig in the sand for their food continue to be contaminated.

After hearing this evidence, the jury awarded the 32,000 plaintiffs a total of $5 billion in punitive damages. In 2007 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reduced the amount to $2.5 billion. The Supreme Court decision reduces the award to $507.5 million, effectively fashioning a rule under federal maritime law that limits punitive damages to the amount of compensatory damages awarded, a so-called one-to-one ratio.

The punitive award must be viewed in light of Exxon Mobil’s enormous profits. The jury’s original $5 billion award amounts to less than the company’s profits for 1990 alone.

See also here. And here.

Unique Killer-Whale Pod Doomed by Exxon Valdez: here.

8 thoughts on “Exxon Valdez environmental scandal continues

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