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August 4th, 2008
08:37 PM ET

19 years later: Exxon Valdez oil still here

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

It’s still here after all these years.

The area of Prince William Sound in Alaska is breathtaking.  The snow capped mountains are filled with brown bears, bald eagles and other wildlife. You can spot whales and sea otters swimming with a glacier off in the distance.

But talk to the people here and they’ll tell you they love the beauty, but big business is in their back yard and they are frustrated.

Earlier this summer the U.S. Supreme Court reduced punitive damages awarded to citizens of Prince William Sound over the Exxon Valdez oil spill here in 1989.   A jury initially awarded $5 billion for the devastation here. In 1994, a federal court cut that in half. And in June, the Supreme Court cut it to $500 million - enraging many people living here. And now Exxon is arguing it shouldn't have to pay interest for the delay in making payments.

As AC360° Correspondent, David Mattingly dug into the soil on Knight Island, the oily residue was still present 19 years later.

As AC360° Correspondent, David Mattingly dug into the soil on Knight Island, the oily residue was still present 19 years later.

You probably remember all the pictures after the Valdez spill.  Wildlife soaked in crude oil, an oil slick as far as the eye can see.  While the oil never touched the fishing town of Cordova, the economic impact was huge.  People went bankrupt, their fishing business and way of life was destroyed.

Ask them and they tell you the oil is still there in remote areas, so we decided to look for ourselves.  We flew out to Knight Island about 50 miles from Cordova where scientists have been testing the beaches.

The minute we got out of the float plane we could smell the oil in the marsh in low tide.  All it took was a shovel and you could find the oily residue mixed with sediment still on the beach, 19 years after the spill.   People in Cordova say it’s a reminder of what happened here nearly 2 decades ago when their town was thriving.

Now, they say, it just struggles to get by.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Ismael Estrada • Oil
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Ilhana, Bosnia

    Horrible scenes of total destruction of nature and yet some geniuses think they should dig for oil?!!! Seriously, it's almost a point of no return! Clean energy, that should be the only answer.

    August 5, 2008 at 3:17 am |
  2. david

    the U.S. taxpayer could always foot the bill if there was another spill- we bailed out the S and L 's under the first bush and now the banks under this bush.---under clinton the big oil companies were allowed to write their own legislation to limit the revenues the taxpayers recieved from their drilling on federal lands. our "democracy" is broken.- it is democracy to the highest bider.

    August 5, 2008 at 12:28 am |
  3. Derek

    As an Alaskan I'm torn... sure the oil companies owe these folks in Prince William Sound every penny of that billion dollar award and then some, but the oil they pump from the ground keeps our state's economy in the black. I oppose drilling in ANWR though, I'm one of the few Alaskans who does, but only for the simple fact that the area is home to an incredible array of wildlife, the likes none of you have ever seen... I know, I've been there several times and it's truly spectacular... It's a "Refuge" for a reason! They've got the entire NPRA to drill... why don't they? Anderson, when are you going to come up and film a Planet in Peril episode up here?? We need your insight and voice in this battle.

    August 4, 2008 at 11:54 pm |
  4. Anthony Chrisco

    So all those quarterly profits in the BILLIONS and Exxon still cannot rectify the problems they created 20 years ago. Why am I not surprised?The Big Oil execs know they are not going to live long enough for it to matter, so they are just executing the rape and plunder plan they have had for decades. I pray that my young children will have the opportunity to know what an unfettered environment looks like. Good job big oil, your are solidifying the stereotype that you have worked so hard to dispel. Thanks for NOTHING!

    August 4, 2008 at 11:40 pm |
  5. Jolene

    Unbelievable! 19 years seems like a lifetime. I can see why the people are upset. For anyone who has experienced the beauty of the Alaskian landscape and culture, it is a shame that our Supreme Courts rather cut Exxon some slack instead of making sure the environment and the people of the land get what is entitled to them.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    August 4, 2008 at 11:30 pm |
  6. Jo Anne Cummings

    Alaska, one of our last untouched gracelands. If this is how we treat it now after the Valdez spill, what will become of it if we begin to exploit it for oil? I am really wondering if we will just exploit it and move on to another without responsibility......I hope not.

    August 4, 2008 at 9:59 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    19 years and the oil is still there. The people it hurt can testify to the negative impact yet Big Oil wants to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve even while they fight having to pay for one of their spills. People and wildlife in the Arctic areas (like Alaska) are having a hard enough time with the melting of the ice – lets not make it worse by letting Big Oil in to drill and chancing another spill that invariably Big Oil will not want to clean up or pay damages for.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 4, 2008 at 9:54 pm |