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Exxon Valdez Playbook Alive and Well

Special guest post by Chris Paine. Chris directed “Who Killed the Electric Car?” His next film, “Revenge of the Electric Car” is set for release 2011.  Currently, he is working on two projects related to the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. More: https://www.facebook.com/chris.paine.

Exxon Valdez veteran marine toxicologist and author Riki Ott (“Not One Drop”) laid out some disturbing comparisons of the two oil disasters during our recent shoot in Louisiana.

BP is using the same playbook Exxon used on us in Alaska.  It’s all about minimizing liability and damages in court. So right off the bat, BP is underestimating how much is spilling, understating harm to the environment, claiming  dispersants are “safe” and “not toxic” to marine life, and putting workers at risk because BP doesn’t want to supply respirators. BP says it will pay all “legitimate” claims, but what this means is ‘see you in court.’ Same old story with Exxon.

Here are a few examples:

1). Broken Promises:  The oil industry makes false promises to get permits:

-Exxon: Promise: Double hull tankers and advanced vessel tracking so ‘not one drop’ of oil would spill in Alaska.  Actuality: Single hull tanker grounds, destroying pristine ecosystem and fishing industry for decades.

-BP:  Promise: State of the art drilling platforms with fail-safe safety procedures. Actuality: Multiple reckless decisions lead to massive oil spill threatening wide destruction of Gulf ecosystem, fishing  and tourism.

2). Manipulate Government Regulations

-Exxon:  Manipulate government regulatory bodies to receive multiple exemptions. Examples: A) Take advantage of OSHA exemptions for colds and flus to mask chemical poisonings of cleanup workers  B) Convince EPA and Coast Guard to rubber stamp contingency plans like using low grade “mill pond” buoys instead of “ocean grade” buoys. C)   Circumvent vastly variable effectiveness  of dispersants for different oil grades by persuading EPA to create one “compromise” effectiveness rating D) Convince EPA to sign off on toxicologist reports for dispersants that have only  been tested on older animals, not juveniles.

-BP: Examples A-D above still apply.

3). Spiller in Charge

The oil polluter becomes a ‘super state’ in charge of running response and cleanup. America leaves spiller in charge of cleanup. The Coast Guard sides with industry.

-Exxon:  USCG signed off on “miles of beaches” treated. USCG backed up Exxon’s control of images.

-BP: Signs of similar activity.

4). Under-Reporting Spill:

-Exxon:   In Alaska, Exxon reported up to 3 times less oil spilt then estimated by independent experts.

-BP:  IN Gulf, BP at first estimated  its spill at 1000 barrels of crude oil per day, then increased it to 5000 once researchers said it was at least this much. Now independent researchers using satellite images estimate as much as  70,000 barrels a day.

5). Under-Reporting  Cleanup

-Exxon: Said that it recovered 10 to 12% of oil on beaches in Prince William Sound but this was based on its own underreported spill size. When you take actual spill size into account, Exxon actually only cleaned up about 4%.   Eyewitnesses reported as much of 80% of recovered “oil” as being water in the last of three tankers that off-loaded “oil” from the stricken Exxon Valdez.

-BP:  Initially claimed to be recovering 20% of spill with its first siphon but this was based on inaccurate flow meter data . Later estimates for recovered oil per day are considerably lower

6).  Minimize public perception of impact

– Exxon: immediately put a flight restriction over area to prevent photography. It also required cleanup crews and workers not to talk to media or take photographs

-BP:  Many reports of similar measures. Dispersants used to prevent visible oil slick. Massive messaging effort to minimize public and government reaction.

7). Sick wildlife

-Exxon.  Ecosystem collapsed 4 years after Exxon Valdez spill.  Pink Salmon eventually recovered but Herring fishery utterly collapsed and 15 of 24 species have not recovered 21 years later

-BP:  Effect of oil and dispersants still unknown — and NOAA has not yet initiated comprehensive ecosystem studies despite vast extent of oiled estuaries and marshes.

8). Sick Communities

-Exxon.   Medical and social trauma caused by collapse of fishing industry never anticipated or compensated.   Domestic violence, divorce, suicide, drugs, and depression rates due to financial stress and cultural dislocation were at historic highs for 20 years with PTSD as high as 99% increases.

-BP.  Hospitalized oil clean up workers.  Already signs of severe financial stress amongst unemployed fisherman just recovering from Hurricanes Katrina/Rita.  Cleanup workers facing illness without proper protection.

9). Minimize liability, Write off legal costs

-Exxon.   Exxon appeals $5 billion punitive fine for 20 years until claim to reduced to $507 million – about 10% of original claims. Legal fees become a business expense, written off against revenue from taxpayers.

BP: ‘We will pay all legitimate claims’.  “Translation?” says Ott, “See you in court.”

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