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ExxonMobil to settle Exxon Valdez fine with State Governor – a former Exxon lobbyist

ExxonMobil will settle its $100 million fine for the Exxon Valdez spill out of court with the federal and Alaskan state governments after being granted a reprieve from a US District Court Judge. This is despite State Governor Sean Parnell being a well-known ex-lobbyist for ExxonMobil.

Exxon Mobil Corporation

ExxonMobil: One of the world's largest publicly traded companies, its 2010 revenues amounting to over $383 billion

The US judge responsible for levying record fines against ExxonMobil two decades ago has refused to reopen the case to seek further penalties for continuing damage to Alaskan fisheries and wildlife.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989 was the worst oil spill in US waters until last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. (Unsurprisingly, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson has today condemned BP for its role in the April 2010 spill. Yesterday, BP’s CEO Robert Dudley claimed that the incident was not a “one-in-a-million occurrence” and that industry-wide changes are needed.) The Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of oil into the sound and contaminated about 1,300 miles of coastline.

The settlement sought for nearly 20 years was $5 billion. By June 2009, ExxonMobil had paid $900 million including interest (Exxon only paid 75% of the $500 million punitive damages eventually awarded), less than one fifth of what was originally sought and after 20 percent of the plaintiffs were deceased. In the fine’s clause was a further payment of $100 million for any lingering impacts of the spill.

Monday’s ruling by US District Court Judge H. Russel Holland means that ExxonMobil will not be forced to pay the $100 million sought. A settlement between federal and state governments looks more likely and, if the record of the Alaskan Governor is any indicator, with yet another reduction of the fine on the cards.

Sean Parnell

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell: Former lobbyist for ExxonMobil

Current Governor of Alaska, Sean Parnell, worked at law firm Patton Boggs between 2005-2006, representing ExxonMobil against plaintiffs including Alaskan state prosecutors. It was Patton Boggs who managed to reduce Exxon’s original $5 billion punitive damages by more than $2 billion in December 2006. Before that, Mr. Parnell served as Director of Government Relations at ConocoPhillips.

Sean Parnell is not only a vocal critic of President Obama’s ‘red tape’ against oil drilling in Alaska but served under Sarah Palin as Lieutenant Governor when the federal government reopened the settlement agreement seeking further funds from Exxon for remediation. Under both Sarah “Drill Baby Drill” Palin and Sean Parnell’s leadership, Exxon’s fines have withered away. Neither Alaskan administration has bothered to take the company to court or pressed for money.

Professor Rick Steiner, who has long campaigned against irresponsible oil and gas drilling in Alaska, had sought to re-open the original 1991 settlement. He was understandably disappointed with the ruling: “”He’s the judge that approved this provision 20 years ago, and for him to disavow any responsibility for it now is pretty astonishing.”

2 comments for “ExxonMobil to settle Exxon Valdez fine with State Governor – a former Exxon lobbyist

  1. September 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Very nice, i suggest webmaster can set up a forum, so that we can talk and communicate.

    • March 28, 2012 at 8:31 am

      Prince William Sound[ How much oil remains?][Based on the areas that were sietdud in the aftermath of the spill, scientists made estimates of the ultimate fate of the oil. A 2001 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study surveyed 96 sites along 8,000 miles of coastline.]The survey distinguished between surface and buried oil. Buried or subsurface oil is of greater concern than surface oil. Subsurface oil can remain dormant for many years before being dispersed and is more liquid, still toxic, and may become biologically available. A disturbance event such as burrowing animals or a severe storm reworks the beach and can reintroduce unweathered oil into the water. Results of the summer shoreline survey showed that the oil remaining on the surface of beaches in Prince William Sound is weathered and mostly hardened into an asphalt-like layer. The toxic components of this type of surface oil are not as readily available to biota, although some softer forms do cause sheens in tide pools.The survey indicates a total area of approximately 20 acres of shoreline in Prince William Sound are still contaminated with oil. Oil was found at 58 percent of the 91 sites assessed and is estimated to have the linear equivalent of 5.8 km of contaminated shoreline.In addition to the estimated area of remaining oiled beach, several other important points were evident: 1. Surface oil was determined to be not a good indicator of subsurface oil. 2. Twenty subsurface pits were classified as heavily oiled. Oil saturated all of the interstitial spaces and was extremely repugnant. These “worst case” pits exhibited an oil mixture that resembled oil encountered in 1989 a few weeks after the spill—highly odiferous, lightly weathered, and very fluid. 3. Subsurface oil was also found at a lower tide height than expected (between 0 and 6 feet), in contrast to the surface oil, which was found mostly at the highest levels of the beach. This is significant, because the pits with the most oil were found low in the intertidal zone, closest to the zone of biological production, and indicate that the survey estimates are conservative at best. ]

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