Posted by: shannynmoore | March 24, 2010

Exxon Spill; 20…make that 21 years of Tears

Today is the 21st anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  We’re still not “whole”.  This is the piece I posted last year:

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 fishermen 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 21st 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. Wow…. 21 years! This event is what made me ‘green’. If people didn’t catch this on Green Planet this past Saturday…. find it and watch it! 21 years of BS!

    So glad the mainstream media didn’t say a word about the 21 years.

    Thanks for all that you do Shannyn! Sending you some ❤ ❤ from Florida.

    • Ditto, “Thanks for all that you do Shannyn!”

  2. Powerful writing there. I was in the Motor City covering a trade show in those waning months of Bush pére. We didn’t get much than the drunk driver story: most of those details above are new to me. But classic unregulated resource extraction behavior. Without accountability, good journalism becomes the exception rather than the rule.

  3. Your words hit harder than the news reports and video that I remember from 21-years ago. I’m deeply touched…sorrowful and spitting angry at this devastation and the lack of accountability for all that’s been lost.

    I share your prayer, Shannyn.

  4. It is hard to fathom that 21 years ago I was in Juneau and watching in horror as the events of that day unfolded. The panic and the sense of doom that permeated that town was palpable, and I found myself glued to my TV throughout the day trying to glean as much info as I could. The complete lack of accountability just stuns me.

  5. I was living in Egypt at the time and recall quite clearly the Exxon Valdez incident, the woefully impotent Exxon response and the failure of the USG to hold them accountable. A drunk driver? It was laughable. 21 years…a full generation ago…seems almost surreal.

  6. I can still hear the deafening silence. I was on one of four boats that struck out from Cordova that first 24 hours. Days later as the oil moved west the bay and hatchery we were protecting became silent of all bird life it was a still, screaming, silence. I knew at that moment my 4 yearold sons life had just changed. My hopes of seining for the rest of my life had died. My son is still there today maybe not really thinking how much that one event changed and still effects his life. Just as the oil still lingers on the beaches it lingers on the lives of the innocent.

  7. Thank you for sharing this again, Shannyn. A beautiful piece of writing that chilled my soul. Peace.

  8. Thank you for the thoughtful post, Shannyn. I was born and raised in PWS and spent my life on commercial boats there, first with my family, later on my own. My dad was actually born on an island in the Sound, next to the one where they moved the Exxon Valdez (for no other reason but to clear the shipping lanes, so oil delivery would no longer be disrupted). The bay was clear before that. The ship continued to belch oil.

    For us at ground zero, these are memories too difficult to bring back. And I don’t wish to. But there is one thing that we must never lose sight of, and that is, IT MUST NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

    There is NO cleanup. No true recovery. There can only be prevention, and prevention costs money. Big Oil will not spend the money with out explicit laws to make them.

    The Sound, and other places like it, require our constant vigilance. Not the petty stuff that wears people down, but the big stuff. Like the fact that the pipeline is aging, and crosses several tributaries of the Copper River. Potentially the next big spill, and not covered by the TAPS agreement for clean-up and prevention.

    Aging tankers world wide, many still with single hulls and overworked and under staffed crews ply every ocean. Out of sight, out of mind.

    Allowing Exxon to merge with Mobile made it not only the biggest single company in the world, but the most powerful. Change will not come easy, if at all. If the banks were “too big to fail”, what of Exxon/Mobile? They operate with impunity. THEY DON’T CARE…THEY DON’T HAVE TO.

  9. Yep. Accident do happen.
    Hopefully the State of Alaska is better prepared now than they were then.

  10. Accidents.

    Accidents do happen.

  11. For all that’s happening on the national scene, thanks for bringing thoughts & souls back to Alaska. It’s from & for Alaska that we who live here & love it should be putting our all into fixing & making it better . There’s a lot to do in many areas now & unfortunately, with Pebble, the future is holding a horrific threat. It’s not too early to organize people power opposition since Parnell is following Palin’s lead but needs to win an election to continue. Do you have any suggestions? Again, meaningful writing. Thanks.

  12. That video of the oiled bird, that had ripped out so many of its feathers it had a hole in its neck, made me cry…and still does.

    Thank you for writing this.

  13. Tears…and a heavy heart, now that you’ve shared this beautiful piece of writing again. Thank you…

  14. Shannyn,
    Thank you for sharing that. It was eloquent, moving, and informative. Maybe there need to be an Alaska Natural Resource Day commemorated on that date, so that future generations can be reminded how something seemingly so vast and eternal can be destroyed in hours by greed and callousness.

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