By Franz Matzner
Twenty eight years ago today the world experienced a massive wake-up call on the hazards and harms of oil spills when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker split open and poured oil into Alaskan waters.
At the time, images of oil coated wildlife and a devastated ecosystem in one of the world's most delicate, iconic and majestic environments drew global attention. Today, oil still lurks under the surface of Prince William Sound, impairing wildlife and human lives.
Today, on the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, Greenpeace climbers scaled an ExxonMobil rig destined to drill in the Russian Arctic. The activists are calling for a ban on offshore oil drilling in the Arctic and for renewed efforts to fight climate change.
"We are here today, on the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster, to protest against ExxonMobil's plans of drilling in the Arctic,” said Ethan Gilbert, a U.S. activist who lived in Alaska when the disaster happened in 1989. “I was a young child living in Alaska when the Exxon Valdez disaster happened and the effects there are still being felt on the people and the environment even today. In the Arctic the effects would be even worse. We are here on behalf of over 5 million people who have joined the movement to protect the Arctic from oil drilling.”
Fourteen activists from seven different countries took part in the protest in Norway, where five of them scaled the West Alpha oilrig and unfurled a banner saying: “No Exxon Valdez in Russian Arctic.”
ExxonMobil plans to drill in the most extreme and remote area of the Arctic this year,” said Erlend Tellnes, Arctic campaigner with Greenpeace Nordic. “This is madness—if something goes wrong, they will be all alone in the far north, with rescue equipment located thousands of kilometers away. We need to stop all oil companies before they cause the inevitable spill in the Arctic, where the harsh conditions would make it impossible to clean up. Look at Exxon Valdez. It is still affecting Alaskan nature 25 years after the accident."
ExxonMobil is the world's largest oil company and has a multi-billion dollar joint venture with Russia’s Rosneft to explore for oil in the Kara Sea, a project that will start this summer. The drilling block where Exxon will operate overlaps with the legally protected Russian Arctic National Park, an area renowned for its magnificent wildlife. The area is home to polar bears and bowhead whales and includes walrus rookeries and one of the largest bird colonies in the northern hemisphere. According to Russian law it is illegal to drill for oil in the area.
“We can't afford to risk an Exxon Valdez disaster in the Arctic, which would be impossible to clean up," said Tellnes. “It is time to go beyond oil. We know that we have to keep these fossil fuels in the ground if we want to prevent further climate changes.”
The Arctic is one of the most extreme and hostile environments to drill for oil on the planet. The ExxonMobil drill site is covered by thick sea ice for 270-300 days of the year, whilst temperatures as low as -45 degrees Celsious are not uncommon. The Kara Sea is often battered by fierce storms and during the long northern winter is plunged into months of almost total darkness.
Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.
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By Andy Rowell
So the trial of the century may not happen after all.
On the morning of Feb. 27, lawyers representing more than 116,000 plaintiffs had been due in court in New Orleans to begin the trial against BP and other defendants resulting from the Deepwater Horizon.
The trial could have lasted two years. Documents in the case run to more than 72 million pages—that makes a pile of paper four-and-a-half miles high.
But the Financial Times is reporting that the two sides could be “close to a possible settlement."
Bloomberg is also reporting that the settlement could be in the region of $14 billion, which is in line with analysts’ expectations.
Late Feb. 26, the judge agreed to postpone the trial for a week to see if a pre-trial deal could be done. In a joint statement, BP and the 90 or so plaintiff lawyers said they “working to reach agreement to fairly compensate people and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill."
The trial is now due to begin on March 5th if no deal is reached.
So is it better for the plaintiffs to try and settle or go to trial? On the one hand, the lesson of history is not great.
Remember the Exxon Valdez? In the decades it took for the case to grind through the court, through numerous appeals it took so long that a third of the original plaintiffs died. At the end they had to settle for about $15,000. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Exxon had offered them $50,000.
So the real winner was Exxon (and its fat-cat lawyers), who dragged litigation out for 20 years or so.
However, many industry analysts and experts say a quick settlement is in BP’s best interest, especially if it was a “super settlement” that settled all claims including those from the U.S. government and Gulf states. This would free up BP to expand drilling in the U.S. again.
So could a global deal be close that would end the claims together? “Before today, I had almost given up on the possibility of a global settlement before a trial began,” Edward Sherman, a professor at Tulane University Law School and specialist in complex litigation told Reuters. “Now, with an extra week, it seems to improve the chances.”
What we do know is that the lawyers have already got rich and will get a whole lot richer. For the defendants’ lawyers, the case is already a “well-fed cash cow”, with BP’s legal costs some $1.73bn. The plaintiffs’ lawyers who have already racked up a bill that could be higher, looks set to earn billions if there is a settlement, as they receive 30-40 per cent of the damages.
But settling may not be in the interests of the ordinary plaintiffs, who could be denied proper justice and to hear the truth of what really happened on that fateful day.
There is really good reason to go to trial, to determine why the rig exploded, who was at fault, how much oil was really spilled and the real extent of the environmental damage.
One person who intends to be in court if the trial goes head is Sheryl Revette, whose husband husband, Dewey, was one of the 11 rig workers killed in the disaster.
I think she deserves her day in court to see BP in the dock and to find out why her husband died.
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