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March 24, 2009

Lessons from Exxon Valdez

Twenty years ago today, the Exxon Valdez hit a reef, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. On this somber anniversary, Oceana releases a report, Toxic Legacy: Long-term Effects of Offshore Oil on Wildlife & Public Health, which calls for the reinstatement of the moratoria on drilling in the outer continental shelf and Bristol Bay. The report also recommends halting current drilling activity in the Arctic while a science-based precautionary approach is applied to all oil and gas leasing, exploration, and development activities in the region.A few of the key findings of our report include: * When oil coats an animal it can limit its ability to swim or fly, and to maintain its body temperature, feed properly, and even reproduce. * Many animals are killed directly after an oil spill. After the Exxon Valdez spill, 300 harbor seals, 900 bald eagles, 2,800 sea otters and 250,000 sea birds were killed soon after the incident. * Oil can persist in the environment long after a spill. More than ten years after the Exxon Valdez, enough oil remained in the environment to continue to harm wildlife such as fish, sea otters and sea ducks.In addition, Oceana’s Pacific Science Director Dr. Jeff Short is testifying before a Congressional joint subcommittee of the House Committee on Natural Resources today. Short is a distinguished oil pollution scientist who spent more than 30 years as an environmental chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) studying the effects of oil pollution, particularly the Exxon Valdez spill. In Short’s testimony, he will remind Congress that “despite heroic efforts involving more than 11,000 people, 2 billion dollars, and aggressive application of the most advanced technology available, only about 8% of the oil was ever recovered.”In his concluding remarks, Dr. Short will reflect back on his years of work on oil pollution:”Before the Exxon Valdez oil spill, we were told that oil development was safe and necessary. In the intervening decades, science has shown us that it is not. While we have made some progress in transport safety as well as response and rescue capability, we still cannot clean up a spill in Arctic waters, and we still do not understand those systems—let alone how they might be affected by industrial activities.”The Exxon Valdez disaster was the impetus for the offshore drilling moratoria. As Dr. Short will implore Congress, it’s high time we reinstate the moratoria, lest we risk reliving the Exxon nightmare.