The Journal of History     Fall 2003     TABLE OF CONTENTS

Exxon Lubricated by Bush Judges

by Greg Palast
September 2, 2003

Fourteen years after Exxon Valdez slimed over one thousand miles of Alaskan beaches, the oily company has yet to pay most of the damages awarded by the jury. The $4 billion Exxon owes for "punitive" damages is getting off easy: by Exxon's own calculation it merely equals the cost of the damage they inflicted.

I know. I worked for the native villages whose coastline was oiled - IS oiled ... the gunk is still there, still deadly, no matter what the mendacious Exxon mouthpieces tell you.

Now, Exxon-Mobil, the Number One campaign contributor to the George W. Bush campaigns, has gotten their big fat sloppy payoff. Last week, the Bushified appellate courts in Texas ordered the Alaskan judge once again to review the award.

Exxon's grinning. More delay. Which doesn't bother my friend Paul Kompkoff of Chenega. The elderly sealhunter passed away waiting for his compensation.

Exxon calls the Exxon Valdez an "accident." Wasn't their fault.

Accident my ass, it was ...A Well-Designed Disaster: The Untold Story of the Exxon Valdez

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez broke open and covered twelve hundred miles of Alaska’s shoreline with oily sludge.

The official story remains "Drunken Skipper Hits Reef." Do not believe it.

In fact, when the ship hit, Captain Joe Hazelwood was nowhere near the wheel, but below deck, sleeping off his bender. The man left at the helm, the third mate, would never have hit Bligh Reef had he simply looked at his Raycas radar. But he could not, because the radar was not turned on. The complex Raycas system costs a lot to operate, so frugal Exxon management left it broken and useless for the entire year before the grounding.

The land Exxon smeared and destroyed belongs to the Chugach natives of the Prince William Sound. Within days of the spill, the Chugach tribal corporation asked my partner Lenora Stewart and I to investigate allegations of fraud by Exxon and the little-known "Alyeska" consortium. In three years’ digging, we followed a twenty-year train of doctored safety records, illicit deals between oil company chiefs, and programmatic harassment of witnesses. And we documented the oil majors’ brilliant success in that old American sport, cheating the natives. Our summary of evidence ran to four volumes. Virtually none of it was reported:
The media had turned off its radar. Here is a bit of the story you have never been told:
- We discovered an internal memo describing a closed, top level meeting of oil company executives in Arizona held just ten months before the spill. It was a meeting of the "Alyeska Owners Committee," the six-company combine that owns the Alaska pipeline and most of the state's oil. In that meeting, say the notes, the chief of their Valdez operations, Theo Polasek, warned executives that containing an oil spill "at the mid-point of Prince William Sound not possible with present equipment" exactly where the Exxon Valdez grounded. Polasek needed millions of dollars for spill containment equipment. The law required it, the companies promised it to regulators, then at the meeting, the proposed spending was voted down. The oil company combine had a cheaper plan to contain any spill; don't bother. According to an internal memorandum, they would just drop some dispersants and walk away. That is exactly what happened. "At the owners committee meeting in Phoenix, it was decided that Alyeska would provide immediate response to oil spills in Valdez Arm and Valdez Narrows only" not the Prince William Sound.

- Smaller spills before the Exxon disaster would have alerted government watchdogs that the port's oil-spill-containment system was not up to scratch. But the oil group's lab technician, Erlene Blake, told us that management routinely ordered her to change test results to eliminate "oil-in-water" readings. The procedure was simple, says Blake. She was told to dump out oily water and refill test tubes from a bucket of cleansed sea water, which they called "the Miracle Barrel."

- A confidential letter dated April 1984, fully four years before the big spill, written by Captain James Woodle, then the oil groups Valdez Port commander, warns management that "Due to a reduction in manning, age of equipment, limited training and lack of personnel, serious doubt exists that [we] would be able to contain and clean up effectively a medium or large size oil spill." Woodle told us there was a spill at Valdez before the Exxon Valdez collision, though not nearly as large. When he prepared to report it to the government, his supervisor forced him to take back the notice, with the Orwellian command, "You made a mistake. This was not an oil spill."

Greg Palast is author of the bestseller, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," and the worstseller, "Democracy and Regulation." The later, regarding the dangers of deregulation, written with Theo MacGregor and Jerrold Oppenheim, was financed and published by the United Nations ILO.

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