Minutes before supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef, before rocks ripped a huge hole in her hull and a geyser of crude oil darkened the pristine waters of Prince William Sound, the ship's lookout burst through the chart room door. "That light, sir, it's still on the starboard side. It should be to port, sir." Her frantic words were merely the last in a litany of futile warnings.
A parade of promises began the next day. Exxon Shipping Company president Frank Iarossi declared, "If it is a claim that is associated with the spill, we've assumed full financial responsibility." A week later, Alaska Governor Steve Cowper spoke at the Valdez Civic Center. "We don't want anybody to think that they have to hire a lawyer and go into federal court and sue the largest corporation in America...The state of Alaska represents you. And we want to be sure that...people who are damaged by this, get compensated fairy and quickly." He also indicated that the state would see to it Prince William Sound was cleaned up, regardless of the cost.
Lengthy investigations revealed cover ups, covert operations, reckless corporate management, numerous safety violations, and a broken regulatory process. At the time of the spill, oil flowed through the Alyeska pipeline at a profit of $400,000 per hour, yet in the end, the 10,000 fishermen affected by the spill spent nearly 20 years in litigation and received little compensation for their losses. Despite a massive cleanup effort, oil remains on the beaches and continues to impact marine life.
Red Light to Starboard documents a story that stunned the world, recounting regional and national events. The compelling narrative explains how an industry often seen as greedy came to be entrusted with a spectacular, fragile ecosystem, and discusses the governmental and public policy decisions that contributed to the disaster, as well as personal and environmental consequences. It also follows policy steps taken since the spill and through opportunities for citizen input and oversight, offers hope for preventing future disasters.
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- A. Jones