Posted by: shannynmoore | March 24, 2009

Exxon Spill; 20 years of Tears

Opening your mailbox to an Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Settlement check is like getting a royalty payment for the snuff film your kid brother was in. Hey, you’re getting paid…but he’s still dead…and you got to watch it.

The spring of 1989 was beautiful. I left the Ballard Lochs onboard the M/V Westward the night my finals at Seattle University were completed. Going north through the Inside Passage of British Columbia and Alaska was like being on the edge of a Technicolor movie…moving with the color…winter turning green. Whales and porpoises were escorting us at a leisurely 9 knot pace. I was going home to the fishing grounds.

Every spring I ache for the fishery. It doesn’t matter if I’m driving my daughter to school, shoveling snow, or vacationing in Hawaii…I long for the heave of waves under my feet; the sound of a Deutz generator and voyeuristic eavesdropping over the marine radio; wheel watch at midnight based upon the outcome of a cribbage game, pilot bread and peanut butter, salt sprayed cigarettes, blood in my caffeine stream.

This year is different.  The Supreme Court decision in June 2008 all but pardoned Exxon’s negligence. The highest court in the land condoned the half-assed clean up. The RATS-Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia, (Alito recused himself, confident that Souter and Kennedy would fill the business friendly void) winked at their corporate masters as the Judas Court betrayed Justice.  This year I long for the wholeness that was promised.

On the morning of March 24th the galley of the Westward was full of fishermen. We were docked in Sitka and picked up the local news feed on our television normally reserved for Mel Gibson videos or the Lonesome Dove series. Coffee, cigarette smoke, fishy raingear and a frantic need to know charged the wheel house.

We had just enjoyed a herring opening that promised a money season. Panic set in and with it, paranoia.   A man named Rex was convinced it was a plot to bring oil platforms into Prince William Sound. The Goddamn environmentalists were blocking the burning of the oil…how much was there? Where was it going to go? There was a storm coming from the North. Where the hell were the containment booms? Where were the emergency response teams? Why were we still sitting in the harbor? Hundreds of boats, days before racing to the herring grounds, now fueled up to do something. None of us sure what that would be, but willing to do anything to protect our livelihood. You see, being a fisherman isn’t what you do; it’s who you are.

Greg Palast, Ricki Ott, and Sharon Bushell have all investigated, reported and lamented the days before and after the Spill. The Myth continues…a drunk captain…an endlessly delayed response…a big storm. The truth is mired somewhere under the sediment of propaganda and media campaigns. What should be remembered as the greatest example of environmental terrorism is now better known as a drunk driver story.

Exxon doesn’t have marked offices in Alaska. In 20 years, the state and Exxon have not reconciled. The Federal Government and the State of Alaska were complicit in the Spill and the cover-up. Precautions, provisions, and preventative measures had all been made law. It seemed that wasn’t the issue…the problem was finding a government agency to enforce those laws. Exxon’s cost cutting measures insured a disaster; layed off spill responders; not fixing the disabled Raycas radar; the containment boom barge iced into dry-dock. All those profit enhancements were expected of a company that answered only to it’s shareholders. The government agencies that looked away from negligence and their responsibility have never been held accountable.

Our delegation to Washington DC could have introduced a law over the last 20 years to force Exxon to pick up their bar tab and pay for their crime. They were woefully silent. Instead, they debated things like gay marriage, vaginal rights, Bill Clinton’s impeachment over extra-presidential activities, steroids in baseball, and Terry Schiavo. Meanwhile, dozens of Alaskans, displaced from their identity, committed suicide while waiting for justice.

When Governor Palin was asked by Katie Couric what Supreme Court decisions other than Roe v Wade she disagreed with, she couldn’t think of one. NOT ONE! She was a moose caught in the headlights. That didn’t work out too well for the moose or the vehicle. The Alaska fisherman lost their voice once again. Thanks, but no thanks, Sarah. Her siding with Pebble Mine was enough…the icing on the cake was the wasted chance….a chance to tell America our story…an Alaskan story…thousands sick from clean up…tens of thousands bankrupt from a dead fishery. Sarah Palin is to Alaska what Velveeta is to cheese; sadly unsatisfying and empty of nutrition. She had the national stage to plead Alaskan’s case to citizens who had long forgotten the images of a once pristine Prince William Sound turned into a thick, black, rolling sea; the oiled sea otters and birds, unrecognizable seals and whales; an initially deformed and diseased herring run that became extinct-costing Cordova $100 million a year. Exxon exploited Alaska and turned pain into profit. The state’s willingness to do business with Exxon was like having your parents rent the basement to the guy who date raped you on prom night. Am I clear?

Tonight, I sit saddened and physically drained as I mark another March 24th on the calendar. Only this time, I know we will never be whole again.

So on this 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez “fetching up” on Bligh Reef, I light a candle. I listen to songs driven from the depth of artists reaching for reason, and I grieve the suicides of at least a dozen men left powerless to the Spill. I ask my fellow citizens to remember a pristine coastline they have never seen…one as long as the Western seaboard, and I pray for protection. Many Alaskans have lost more than I, but what I have lost has left me less then I was 20 years ago…just a girl from Homer…a girl with a dream to catch fish.



  1. This brought tears to my eyes. It is hard to fathom this kind of evil and injustice in our country. The date-rape analogy…my God… that is horrible.

  2. Shannyn…I am just a getting on in age Canadian woman….one that has followed your blog for a long time..and commented only once in a while.

    You have a gift for words my girl. One that allows the reader to tap into something so powerful, that I cannot even say it.

    I remember the day….watching the news footage from my Canadian living room, and crying.

    I want you to know that I cry with you today…blubbering like a complete idiot at my desk. I am so sorry Shannyn…I wish there was more that people like me could or should have done.

    Powerful post…beautiful woman.


  3. Shannyn,

    You made me cry………

  4. this made me cry. i remember when it happened. its all so sad.

  5. I, too, living in PA, mourn with you today. I remember quite well watching this unfold on tv and knowing that life in that area had changed forever. Her highness lost a rare opportunity to tell the rest of the country what a devastating and tragic blow had been dealt to all of you. And each year as the profits for Exxon/ Mobil are announced, I raise my eyes to the heavens and wonder “why”.

  6. Shannyn, thank you so much for all you do for the beautiful State of Alaska, her people, her wildlife and her incredible pristine beauty.

    I was still living in Atlanta in 1989 but remember crying with utter outrage and helplessness watching the devastation of such a truly beautiful place and it’s’ inhabitants. To see the otters, birds, seals and whales totally covered in black oil was a heartbreaking scene I have never forgotten. Like so many people I cried to the point that I made myself sick. To this day, I have never and will never by gas from Exxon Mobile.

    Sarah Palin’s failure to speak up for her state on the Couric interview was just one more elected official’s total dereliction of duty, and missed opportunity.

  7. Very well done.
    Thank You

  8. Beautiful writing on a sickening subject, Shannyn. One snarky quibble: Velveeta is edible, if barely. It’s also a trademarked product, so you’re inviting nasty letters from humorless lawyers demanding that you stop comparing it to Sarah Palin. Try colored paraffin instead.

    You’re great.

  9. A beautiful piece of writing, Shannyn. It seems to me the wrong argument was made before the Supreme Court; they should have focused on the corporate negligence you detailed as opposed to the drunken captain. Maybe the outcome would have been different-perhaps not; the fix was in when Alito recused himself. He knew that Kennedy and Souter had his back. Congress, now more than ever, needs to overturn this fascist verdict. Thanks for lighting a candle to memorialize the environmental crime of this century and last.

  10. Great piece Shannyn. I could hear your voice while I read it with tears in my eyes.

    While listening to local idiots on the radio this morning telling the public to “move on already…” I am reminded of another crime; that you are not on the radio on this day lambasting corporate negligence and greed and calling for action!

    I love listening to the radio and the guy on the mid-day show has the most sophomoric intellect; no wonder he is a tried and true Palinbot along with his FM morning partner. Neither one of them could carry your Bonnie Bell Lipsmacker. Please find a radio home soon…Your voice and intellect and story telling are sorely missed!

  11. Shannyn, thank you for this amazing post…really wonderfully written and poignant….I am linking to it as my top post of the day at watergate summer and sending readers here….

  12. {{{HUGZZZ}}}

    “20th Birthday of the Exxon Valdez Lie”

  13. Whether you’re a fisherman from Monheagn Island, Maine or Homer, Alaska this issue of taking away who we are is something that money cannot replace…and to be so disrespected and abused by Exxon in the face of their soothing cooing reassurances at the time is the essence of hubris.
    you really wrote this one from the heart. good job…

  14. Thank you, Shannyn, for a wonderful post. I, too, watched the devastation on the MSM. Horrific environmental disaster!

    What was the thinking for placing a tank farm at the base of Mt. Redoubt?

    Alaskans should demand no mining allowed near a food source, protecting the salmon should be highest priority.

    Thanks, again, Shannyn!

  15. well, shame on me in advance for making this into a partisan issue. but i agree with a comment i saw someplace that said, i only feel sorry for 40% of the people in cordova. because 60% of them continued voting republican, year after year; as if anybody in that club would ever do anything about restitution. and the whole state is still in full-on red mode, 20 years later, while the rest of the country has come to its senses.

  16. All I can say is THANK YOU for your wise words, as painfilled & raw as they may be
    we all can light a candle in the dark, even when we are too weak for wit.

    LGC, MWD may you rest in peace.

  17. Thank you. It’s awful that you experienced this personally. It’s wonderful that through your writing you have made us all come close to experiencing it personally, as well.

  18. So well done; thank-you!

  19. Thank you, Shannyn, for your clarion voice full of mad breath and vision born of experience. I linked to your blog from Mudflats who I found out about while listening to the CBC’s “As It Happens” on Minnesota Public Radio this past week. I have been to Alaska a few times, unfortunately not since about 1974 when as a high school student, I landed on Naknek Lake in August to fish at the Brooks River Camp in Katmai with my Dad and an older brother. Flying over vast glaciers to land on Naknek Lake and seeing the amazing largeness of the land of Alaska is unforgettable to someone who grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis. I also cried when I read this reminder of what went so wrong with relationships of people to land and corporations and history. And it continues. But I am thankful for the eloquence of people like you who will remind us of what is, what isn’t and what might be. Thank you so much. Please keep speaking with your heartfelt voice, and thus protecting Alaska and all of us also who wish to remain free in our country.
    A Friend in Minnesota

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