Reflection from Prince William Sound

NWF   |   July 16, 2009

Just weeks before the nation’s largest, most destructive oil spill, I flew over Prince William Sound and marveled at its raw untrammeled beauty in mid-winter.

It has been twenty years since the Exxon Valdez hauling oil from the Port of Valdez (at the terminus of the Alaska pipeline) was guided by a drunken pilot. You may remember that the a super tanker veered off course and struck the Bligh Reef ripping a huge gash in its single bottomed hull, spilling its fully-loaded oil cargo across what was then one of the most pristine and productive sounds in the world.

Prince William Sound will never be the same-nor will its inhabitants ever be again.

Last week I returned to Prince William Sound to learn that much of the oil that was spilled is still there sitting under the sand and gravel in the tidal zones of every damaged coastal area. Many once vital fish populations have crashed and will likely never recover from the spill or from all the toxic chemicals that Exxon left scattered in this once pristine ecologically important water.

Last week travelling around the sound, I witnessed abandoned docks, canneries, and hollowed out fishing villages that once were thriving communities with well-kept fishing vessels.

abandoned fishing vessel
Many hard-working and courageous commercial anglers who fished its waters in all kinds of weather have been personally destroyed by this spill and by the calloused way they were treated by Exxon, by the courts and by the Federal government. I learned about people who lost their boats, homes and livelihoods and even lost their families because of this spill. The human tragedy has been powerfully told in a book entitled, “Not One Drop – Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill” by a dedicated tireless voice for truth, Riki Ott. Ott has written her most powerful book on the subject giving witness to the oil giant’s 20-year trail of pollution, litigation and public deception that led to the tragic 1989 spill.  Ott delves deep into the personal losses and disruption to the fishing community. (

abandoned fishing vesselExxon used its vast corporate resources to drag out the court process and to avoid full accountability and proper compensation for the innocent lives that were destroyed. (Many of these these people died before they ever received a dollar and those who lived long enough got about $15,000 for their terrible losses. Their lives will never be the same. Yet Exxon has the audacity to pretend that they did no harm.

Today, I saw a bumper sticker on a big expensive car that said, “Drill Now!” as if there were vast supplies of oil off-shore in the US—there is not.  How fast we forget what a terrible price others pay for our oil addiction.

| ,
Published: July 16, 2009