This article is an excerpt from Chapter one in my new book The Chicken Little Agenda – Debunking Experts' Lies. This is the third of eleven parts for Chapter one that will be presented here sequentially. Read part two here.
The Green Revolution
What Really Happened
Exxon, of course, was on the scene. The men running this corporation sensed how the wind was blowing and made practical decisions. They spent more on the initial cleanup than the annual budget of several nations. Exxon deserves praise and respect for its actions following the spill. As it turned out, this was finally recognized by the court when it excused $125 million of Exxon's fine because of these actions. Nevertheless, the civil penalties levied against Hazelwood and Exxon are outrageous examples of how justice can be miscarried when emotion overcomes logic and opinion replaces fact.
Here are the facts.
Only 200 miles of Prince William coastline were significantly fouled, not 1,300 as "officially" reported, but this information appears only in the fine print at the end of the report. The remaining 1,100 miles received nothing more than possibly a light sheen of oil in one or two places along the beach.
While the general visibility was reported as ten nautical miles, the local visibility near Bligh Reef at the time of the grounding was near zero.
Far from being one of the largest oil spills in history, as reported in Microsoft's Encarta Online Encyclopedia, the Prince William Sound spill ranked a distant fifty-fourth. The Amoco Cadiz spilled nearly 70 million gallons of oil off the coast of Brittany, France, on March 16, 1978, over six times the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez, and yet even this spill ranks only sixth. On June 3, 1979, the exploratory well IXTOC I blew in the Bay of Campeche off Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico, spewing 140 million gallons of oil into that beautiful bay. And even this ranks only number two. The all-time "winner" is former Iraqi leader Sadam Hussein, who caused the deliberate release of over 40.5 billion gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf, over 3,750 times the size of the Prince William Sound spill.
The Office of Response and Restoration of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports on their Web site: "What we have found is that, despite the gloomy outlook in 1989, the intertidal habitats of Prince William Sound have proved to be surprisingly resilient. Many shorelines that were heavily oiled and then intensively cleaned now appear much as they did before the spill. Most gravel beaches where the sediments were excavated and pushed into the surf zone for cleansing have returned to their normal shape and sediment distribution patterns. Beaches that had been denuded of plants and animals by the toxic effects of oil and by the intense cleanup efforts show extensive recolonization and are similar in appearance to areas that were unoiled" (emphasis NOAA's).
In its evaluation of the effectiveness of the cleanup methods used after the spill, NOAA says: "Our intent in creating this monitoring program was to study shoreline ecological recovery after an environmental disaster like the Exxon Valdez spill, and then to use those lessons as scientific guidance for what we do in future response actions. At this point in time, our task is incomplete. However, some of the findings have already changed the way we think about cleaning up oil spills" (emphasis NOAA's). And then NOAA cites these examples (emphasis NOAA's):
- More judiciousness in the use of aggressive cleanup methods, such as hot-water washing, would help to temper the severe effects we have observed in biological communities.
- Using water to flush an oil-contaminated beach may also wash away fine-grained sediments and nutrients that small organisms need to successfully colonize; and it can take years for the fine sediment to return.
- Adult animals such as clams may survive in oil-contaminated beaches, but juveniles do less well.
- Oil that penetrates deeply into beaches can remain relatively fresh for years and serve as a source of exposure to nearby animals.
- After large-scale excavation or reworking of gravel beaches, it can take many years for the beach sediments to recover.
- Rocky rubble shores should be of high priority for protection and cleanup because of the potential for deep penetration and slow weathering.
What NOAA is really saying here is that the original problem was significantly exacerbated by the intensive cleanup efforts, however noble and well intentioned. It doesn't take brilliant insight to understand that oil covering the surface of rocks and sand is much less a problem than oil heated to low viscosity and forced down into the sediment by high-pressure, hot steam. This steam not only cleaned the rocks, it permanently destroyed the lichens and other vegetation that resided on them. As it turns out, most of these would have survived the oil had they simply been left alone.
The oil floating on the cold Prince William Sound water tended to congeal into larger clumps of a tarlike substance. These clumps typically grew until they became sufficiently dense that they sank to the bottom, where they eventually were covered with silt. While this certainly poses some threat to the bottom critters near the clumps, for the most part the problem is relatively benign. By spraying the surface oil with detergents, however, the clumps never form. Envision television detergent ads wherein detergent-treated dishwater holds grease in suspension so that it does not stick to plates. In the ocean, detergent disperses oil in the same manner: the oil suspends in the water instead of floating on top, where it could be skimmed away. Consequently, it gets ingested by birds and fish. Even after as much oil as possible is soaked up into rags and other mop-up devices, sufficient detergent-dispersed oil remains in the water to do great harm.
As with the Amoco Cadiz spill, the IXTOC I spill, and even the Gulf War disaster, after five years, only a concerted effort could show that a spill had ever happened. After ten years, unless you knew about the spill, you probably could find no evidence at all.
Even ten years after the Exxon Valdez spill, I could find only one news reporter willing to tell the truth about it. On Sunday, March 14, 1999, Eric Nalder wrote for the Seattle Times an accurate rendition of what happened and the role Captain Hazelwood played. While there may be other truthful articles somewhere, they are well buried. Over and over again one reads about 1,300 miles of ruined beaches, a drunken captain, the largest manmade disaster in history, ad nauseam. Spin has replaced historical fact. Fiction has conquered truth.
Why? The news media reaction was knee jerk as always-this requires no astute insight. It is far more dramatic to thunder about 1,300 miles of polluted coastline than it is to explain that the environmental damage was really fairly slight and that the "good guys" caused at least as much damage as the evil polluters. On the other hand, the environmental groups who so cold bloodedly attacked Exxon and Captain Hazelwood may have been following an agenda that was established well before the Prince William Sound spill.
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(Part 4 of 11 follows)
© 2006 – Robert G. Williscroft