This week Exxon holds its annual shareholders meeting in New Jersey. The meeting’s focus will not be on sales projections. Both outside and inside the hotel, the emphasis will be on the giant Alaskan oil spill by the Exxon Valdez tanker in late March. The demonstrations outside the Hotel, and the shareholders and proxy holders asking questions inside the meeting room, are in no mood to listen to any bromides about “accidents will happen and we are very sorry.”
Too many preventable “ifs” led to this enduring catastrophe to the ocean, beaches, fisheries, fishermen, native Alaskans and to the contaminated fish on the way to market in the coming months and years. For long after the more visible slicks and oil “mousses” recede, the toxic chemicals absorbed by the zooplankton, the microorganisms that form the basis of the food chain for the fish, will be working their destruction inside consumers stomachs.
“If” starting in 1973, tough fuel efficiency standards were imposed, especially on motor vehicles, there would be little need to disrupt the tender Arctic tundra and draw the oil from the ground. Under Reagan fuel efficiency standards were not only frozen over eight years, but actually diminished through waivers for the large automobile companies.
“If” Ford, Carter and Reagan pushed for safer oil tanker design, the Exxon tanker may have still run aground but the damage to the tanker that led to the spill may have been avoided. This huge tanker was built without double-bottoms, additional segregated ballast tanks, and/or bow thrusters for enhanced maneuverability. Oil companies are still buying tankers with single bottoms.
“If” tanker size restrictions were linked to effective worse-case spill cleanup capability, any tanker accidents would have produced less of a calamity.
“If” Exxon had prudently tested its crew and checked the Captain’s background of drunk driving violations, the tanker would have had an alert crew on the job.
“If” the Captain had a minimal sense of responsibility for the tanker “time bomb” he was entrusted with, the Exxon Valdez would not be a household name.
“If” the Coast Guard monitoring the Prince William Sound with radar to catch any ships going off their course was doing its job, the collision with the reef might have been avoided.
“If” Exxon and its oil company consortium, Alyeska, really had the cleanup plans and equipment ready that they assured Alaskan lawmakers they had, the spill of 11 million gallons could have been contained from its coverage of an area larger than Rhode Island.
“If” those Alaskan state legislators, who hale been bought or rented by oil industry campaign money and other perks, did not turn down less than a year earlier an oil tax to give the town of Valdez the equipment to help reduce the consequences of such tanker spills, the damage would be less.
Lots of “ifs” and lots of hindsight that could have been prevented by a little, common sense foresight from those who profit from the oil and those who are paid by taxpayers to police the traffic.
Several predictions are certain. One is that the tanker’s Captain will pay a penalty larger than that paid by the Exxon Corporation. The laws can prosecute people, but Exxon executives won’t be among them.
Second, Exxon will see that its expenses are either insurable or deductible. Mostly they will be insurable. What is deductible will reduce revenues to federal and state governments and in the former case make Washington’s deficit bigger.
Third, Exxon will end up with more revenue due to the rise in gasoline prices that took off faster than usual this Spring in part due to the oil spill. Oil companies are always looking for such pretexts and they found one,
Only if people demand that Washington move to set a 50 mpg fuel standard on motor vehicles in the Nineties as the government should have done for the Eighties back in the Seventies, will oil company revenues decline.
People are joining the Exxon boycott movement. For more information write to Exxon Boycott, P. O. Box 19405, Washington, DC 20036. Even better would be for people to leave their cars at home whenever they feel they can walk the quarter, half or one mile and get some exercise at that. What gasoline you don’t use, Exxon can’t sell to you.