Environment Forum

Oil-soaked sand along Gulf Coast raises memories of Exxon Valdez

Oil on BeachA handful of oily sand grabbed from a Louisiana wetland brought back some strong memories for Earl Kingik. As a traditional hunter and whaler in Alaska’s Arctic, it reminded him of the Exxon Valdez spill. As he and other tribal leaders toured the U.S. Gulf Coast for signs of the BP oil spill, they worried that what’s happening now in Louisiana could happen if offshore drilling proceeds off the Alaskan coast.

“There’s no way to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic,” said Kingik, an Inupiat tribal member from Point Hope, Alaska. Compared to Louisiana, where the waters are relatively calm and cleanup equipment and experts are nearby, the Arctic Ocean is a hostile place for oil and gas exploration. The Arctic leaders made their pilgrimage to the Gulf Coast as part of a campaign to block planned exploratory drilling by Shell Oil  in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

4 looking out windows“What I saw was devastating out there,” Martha Falk, the tribal council treasurer of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope in Alaska, said after the Gulf Coast tour by seaplane, boat and on foot. If the same thing occurred off Alaska, she said, “We would have to wait days and days and days for (cleanup) equipment to reach our area.”

The planned start of Alaska offshore drilling in July coincides with the spring hunt of the bowhead whale, a central event in the Inupiat culture, Falk said.

“The natural smell of the ocean was non-existent” along the Gulf Coast, said Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, an Inupiat from Nuiqsut, a tiny Alaskan village near the Beaufort Sea.  She was brought close to tears as she recalled the faces of the Gulf residents she saw on the tour. “It is a strong burden that I’ll carry with me the rest of my life.”

from The Great Debate UK:

How much damage will the BP oil spill cause?

-Kees Willemse is professor of offshore engineering at Delft University. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Last month’s explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig continues to result in the leakage of an estimated 200,000 gallons (910,000 litres) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day.

According to U.S. President Barack Obama, “we are dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster”.

from Photographers' Blog:

Covering the Exxon Valdez disaster

It was shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989 that the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef in Prince Edward Sound and began leaking millions of gallons of North Slope crude oil. I was sound asleep in Toronto, Canada when that happened.

Reuters was still taking a feed of pictures from UPI (United Press International) from the United States. But I remember hearing the news that morning and packing my gear (which at that time was film, powder chemicals, portable darkroom, 16S color transmitter and of course.. some cold weather clothing). I sat in Toronto as the politics of the news business played out in Washington between Reuters and UPI. Finally, it was decided that we would both cover the story. So, David Ake, a UPI staffer from Denver, and I made our way there. I remember landing in Anchorage, Alaska, and hauling my gear into a rental car at midnight, then driving six hours to Valdez in the dead of night. About 4 hours into the drive I was held up by a few hundred caribou, who decided to cross the two lane highway, they were just mingling so I still have vivid memories of being in the middle of nowhere honking my horn to help speed up the process.

Sea lions rest on a rock in the oily waters of Prine William Sound near Knight Island, April 2, 1989, after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, caused by the Exxon Valdez.   REUTERS/Mike Blake

I rolled into Valdez at first light and it didn’t take long to realize that most of the town’s people did not want the media there. The few media that had found rooms at the only hotel in town were all having to checkout as rumor had it that Exxon had bought the hotel. With help from our desk in Washington and the chamber of commerce in Valdez I found a place to stay at the home of the local taxidermist.

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