Many would assume that BP””the company responsible for the Gulf Coast disaster””will cover the entire cost of cleanup. But we learned from the Exxon Valdez spill that the reality is very different:
The Exxon Valdez tanker spilled more than 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, which eventually contaminated approximately 1,300 miles of shoreline. The total costs of Exxon Valdez, including both cleanup and also “fines, penalties and claims settlements,” ran as much as $7 billion. Cleanup of the affected region alone cost at least $2.5 billion, and much oil remains.
Yet Exxon made high profits even in the aftermath of the most expensive oil spill in history. They made $3.8 billion profit in 1989 and $5 billion in 1990. And this occurred while Exxon disputed cleanup costs nearly every step of the way.
Exxon fought paying damages and appealed court decisions multiple times, and they have still not paid in full. Years of fighting and court appeals on Exxon’s part finally concluded with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2008 that found that Exxon only had to pay $507.5 million of the original 1994 court decree for $5 billion in punitive damages. And as of 2009, Exxon had paid only $383 million of this $507.5 million to those who sued, stalling on the rest and fighting the $500 million in interest owed to fishermen and other small businesses from more than 12 years of litigation.
Twenty years later, some of the original plaintiffs are no longer alive to receive, or continue fighting for, their damages. An estimated 8,000 of the original Exxon Valdez plaintiffs have died since the spill while waiting for their compensation as Exxon fought them in court.
Coastal regions and coastlines of the Prince William Sound are still contaminated. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council’s 2009 status report finds that as much as 16,000 gallons of oil remains in the sound’s intertidal zones today. A 2001 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study surveyed 96 sites along 8,000 miles of coastline and found that “a total area of approximately 20 acres of shoreline in Prince William Sound is still contaminated with oil. Oil was found at 58 percent of the 91 sites assessed and is estimated to have the linear equivalent of 5.8 km of contaminated shoreline.”