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Exxon slap billigt for USA's største olieudslip

Da tankskibet Exxon Valdez i 1989 gik på grund i Alaska forårsagede det en af de største forure-ningskatastrofer i nyere tid. Alligevel nedsatte USA's højesteret i denne uge den erstatning Exxon skal betale for ulykken
Olietankeren Exxon Valdez bugseres væk efter at have spildt ufattelige mængder råolie ud i Prince William Sound og dermed ødelagt områdets øko-balance.

Olietankeren Exxon Valdez bugseres væk efter at have spildt ufattelige mængder råolie ud i Prince William Sound og dermed ødelagt områdets øko-balance.

Chris Wilkins

27. juni 2008

Langfredag lidt efter midnat sejlede olietankskibet Exxon Valdez i 1989 ind i bugten Prince William Sound i den sydlige del af Alaska.

På broen er skibets kaptajn Joseph Hazelwood alene på vagt. Han drikker en fire- fem vodkadrinks, og skynder sig ud for at lade sit vand.

Med det samme går skibet på grund ved Bligh-revet. Med katastrofale følger: Exxon Valdez har kun én bund i lastrummet, og på kort tid lækker skibet derfor 258.000 tønder råolie i bugten, som kraftig storm hurtigt spreder ud over et 1,400-mil stort område. USA's største olieforureningskatastrofe nogensinde er en realitet.

Billeder af millioner af olieindsmurte fugle og døde fisk i havoverfladen går verden rundt.

"Også for områdets beboere, hvoraf mange lever af fiskeri, fik olieudslippet store konsekvenser," fortæller sociologen Steven Picou, der i 1999 udarbejdede en officiel rapport om de menneskelige konsekvenser af ulykken. "Mange af menneskene i området fik deres eksistensgrundlag ødelagt. De blev traumatiseret og deprimeret. Mange år efter havde området stadigvæk en ekstraordinær høj grad af alkoholisme og lignende sociale problemer".

Ødelagde indtægter

Som Steven Picou på et tidspunkt har sagt til magasinet Economist, så kommer Røde Kors når naturkatastrofer rammer et område. Når en menneskeskabt katastrofe rammer, så kommer der kun en masse advokater.

I Exxon Valdez-ulykkens tilfælde kom der en hær af advokater. For ejeren af tankskibet, verdens største olie og gasselskab Exxon Mobil Corporation, kunne godt regne ud, at nogen skulle undgælde. Kort tid efter udslippet lagde 32.677 fiskere fra området da også sag an mod Exxon for at have ødelagt deres indtægtsgrundlag.

Selvom fiskernes tabte indtægtsgrundlag blev vurderet til at have en værdi af 507 millioner dollars, blev Exxon i første omgang dømt til at betale en skadeserstatning på 2,5 milliarder dollars til fiskerne af en retsinstans i Alaska. Erstatningen var ekstra høj, fordi dommerne lagde vægt på, at Exxon havde udvist uansvarlig adfærd i forhold til den måde selskabet fragtede de store mængder olier.

Større sikkerhed

Exxon appellerede straks dommen til USA's højesteret, som så sent onsdag dansk tid omstødte den første dom, og nedsatte erstatningskravet til 507 millioner dollars.

"Højesteret nedsætter erstatningen, fordi ulykken skyldtes letsindighed. Den skyldtes ikke profitjagt, og den var aldrig intentionen," skriver højesteretsdommer David Souter i domsafsigelsen.

Amerikanske Greenpeace kaldte på den anden side dommen for "en latterliggørelse af retfærdigheden". Uanset hvad, så har Exxon Valdez-ulykken dog haft stor betydning for oliebranchen.

"Det var den begivenhed, der er baggrunden for den nuværende afsky over for oliebranchen i dette land," vurderer en amerikansk oliemand i Wall Street Journal.

For transporten af olie på verdens have havde udslippet også stor betydning. I 1989 var kun seks procent af olietankskibene dobbeltskrogede, hvilket gør skibene mere sikre i tilfælde af ulykker, fordi de har to bunde, som olien først skal trænge igennem for at komme i kontakt med vandet. I dag er 77 procent af verdens olietankskibe dobbeltskrogede.

Kaptajn Hazelwood, der i dag arbejder som it-konsulent i et advokatfirma, havde ingen kommentarer til dommen. "Det er en del af livet," sagde han kun til avisen Newsday.

Olietankeren Exxon Valdez bugseres væk efter at have spildt ufattelige mængder råolie ud i Prince William Sound og dermed ødelagt områdets øko-balance. Foto: Chris Wilkins/Scanpix

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Vilhelm von Håndbold

Court Rewards Exxon for Valdez Spill

June 29, 2008 By Greg Palast

Kilde: Chicago Tribune
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[Thursday, June 26, 2008] Twenty years after Exxon Valdez slimed over one thousand miles of Alaskan beaches, the company has yet to pay the $5 billion in punitive damages awarded by the jury. And now they won't have to. The Supreme Court today cut Exxon's liability by 90% to half a billion. It's so cheap, it's like a permit to spill.

Exxon knew this would happen. Right after the spill, I was brought to Alaska by the Natives whose Prince William Sound islands, livelihoods, and their food source was contaminated by Exxon crude. My assignment: to investigate oil company frauds that led to to the disaster. There were plenty.

But before we brought charges, the Natives hoped to settle with the oil company, to receive just enough compensation to buy some boats and rebuild their island villages to withstand what would be a decade of trying to survive in a polluted ecological death zone.

In San Diego, I met with Exxon's US production chief, Otto Harrison, who said, "Admit it; the oil spill's the best thing to happen" to the Natives.

His company offered the Natives pennies on the dollar. The oil men added a cruel threat: take it or leave it and wait twenty years to get even the pennies. Exxon is immortal - but Natives die.

And they did. A third of the Native fishermen and seal hunters I worked with are dead. Now their families will collect one tenth of their award, two decades too late.

In today's ruling, Supreme Court Justice David Souter wrote that Exxon's recklessness was ''profitless'' - so the company shouldn't have to pay punitive damages. Profitless, Mr. Souter? Exxon and it's oil shipping partners saved billions - BILLIONS - by operating for sixteen years without the oil spill safety equipment they promised, in writing, under oath and by contract.

The official story is, "Drunken Skipper Hits Reef." But don't believe it, Mr. Souter. Alaska's Native lands and coastline were destroyed by a systematic fraud motivated by profit-crazed penny-pinching. Here's the unreported story, the one you won't get tonight on the Petroleum Broadcast System:

It begins in 1969 when big shots from Humble Oil and ARCO (now known as Exxon and British Petroleum) met with the Chugach Natives, owners of the most valuable parcel of land on the planet: Valdez Port, the only conceivable terminus for a pipeline that would handle a trillion dollars in crude oil.

These Alaskan natives ultimately agreed to sell the Exxon consortium this astronomically valuable patch of land -- for a single dollar. The Natives refused cash. Rather, in 1969, they asked only that the oil companies promise to protect their Prince William Sound fishing and seal hunting grounds from oil.

In 1971, Exxon and partners agreed to place the Natives' specific list of safeguards into federal law. These commitment to safety reassured enough Congressmen for the oil group to win, by one vote, the right to ship oil from Valdez.

The oil companies repeated their promises under oath to the US Congress.

The spill disaster was the result of Exxon and partners breaking every one of those promises - cynically, systematically, disastrously, in the fifteen years leading up to the spill.

Forget the drunken skipper fable. As to Captain Joe Hazelwood, he was below decks, sleeping off his bender. At the helm, the third mate would never have collided with Bligh Reef had he looked at his Raycas radar. But the radar was not turned on. In fact, the tanker's radar was left broken and disasbled for more than a year before the disaster, and Exxon management knew it. It was just too expensive to fix and operate.

For the Chugach, this discovery was poignantly ironic. On their list of safety demands in return for Valdez was "state-of-the-art" on-ship radar.

We discovered more, but because of the labyrinthine ways of litigation, little became public, especially about the reckless acts of the industry consortium, Alyeska, which controls the Alaska Pipeline.
Several smaller oil spills before the Exxon Valdez could have warned of a system breakdown. But a former Senior Lab Technician with Alyeska, Erlene Blake, told our investigators that management routinely ordered her to toss out test samples of water evidencing spilled oil. She was ordered to refill the test tubes with a bucket of clean sea water called, "The Miracle Barrel."
In a secret meeting in April 1988, Alyeska Vice-President T.L. Polasek confidentially warned the oil group executives that, because Alyeska had never purchased promised safety equipment, it was simply "not possible" to contain an oil spill past the Valdez Narrows -- exactly where the Exxon Valdez ran aground 10 months later.
The Natives demanded (and law requires) that the shippers maintain round- the-clock oil spill response teams. Alyeska hired the Natives, especiallly qualified by their generations-old knowledge of the Sound, for this emergency work. They trained to drop from helicopters into the water with special equipment to contain an oil slick at a moments notice. But in 1979, quietly, Alyeska fired them all. To deflect inquisitive state inspectors, the oil consortium created sham teams, listing names of oil terminal workers who had not the foggiest idea how to use spill equipment which, in any event, was missing, broken or existed only on paper.
In 1989, when the oil poured from the tanker, there was no Native response team, only chaos.

Today, twenty years after the oil washed over the Chugach beaches, you can kick over a rock and it will smell like an old gas station.

The cover story of the Drunken Captain serves the oil industry well. It falsely presents America's greatest environmental disaster as a tale of human frailty, a one-time accident. But broken radar, missing equipment, phantom spill teams, faked tests -- the profit-driven disregard of the law -- made the spill an inevitability, not an accident.

Yet Big Oil tells us, as they plead to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, as Senator John McCain calls for drilling off the shores of the Lower 48, it can't happen again. They promise.

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Greg Palast is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow for Investigative Reporting at the Nation Institute, New York. Read and view his investigations for BBC Television at http://www.GregPalast.com. An earlier (revised) version of this report originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
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In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Poya Pakzad has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Poya Pakzad endorsed or sponsored by the originator.
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