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March 26, 2014

Twenty-five Years Since The Exxon Valdez And Zero Lessons Learned by Big Oil

Exxon Valdez 25th anniversary
Activists from the Sierra Club and Allied Groups Speak Out About the Exxon Valdez Spill and Beyond

They say that with age comes wisdom. But 25 years after the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, the oil industry isn’t any wiser.

Four years ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster devastated the Gulf Coast’s habitats and businesses, and now a barge has crashed off the coast of Texas, leaking as much as 168,000 gallons of tar-like bunker fuel into the Gulf.

This past Saturday, March 22, the Cleopatra Shipping Agency owned-barge, Summer Wind, collided with a ship in the heavily-trafficked Houston Ship Channel in Galveston Bay. The barge was being towed by Kirby Inland Marine’s tow boat, Miss Susan.

Not only has the heavy fuel oil spread miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and affected 15 miles of shoreline, but most ships are unable to travel the channel.

The immediate environmental burden is not yet known, but if this spill is anything like the BP disaster or the Exxon Valdez spill, they’ll have years of environmental costs and clean-up ahead of them.

A study published Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the oil spilled from Deepwater Horizon severely harmed the embryos of several different fish species. These species—including Atlantic bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, and amberjack—that were exposed to the toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) developed an “irregular heartbeat, circulatory disruption and pericardial fluid accumulation.”

"For a species like bluefin tuna, whose populations have crashed due to overfishing and are fighting to rebuild their former abundance, BP's oil was a shot to the heart," Jacqueline Savitz, a spokeswoman for Oceana, told the LA Times.

But the oil didn’t just remain on the surface.

Dr. Paul Montagna, the Endowed Chair for Ecosystems and Modeling at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, studied the oil from Deepwater Horizon.

He told NPR’s StateImpact, “That was something that was unexpected — oil floats, so everybody expected the oil to come to the surface and not impact the deep sea. But we found the opposite was happening.”

The crude oil sank to the bottom of the Gulf, threatening creatures and ecosystems thousands of feet below the surface. This could happen again with the Summer Wind disaster.

The oil that doesn’t sink is at risk of spreading further into the water and coating the nearby shore lines. A crucial shorebird habitat on both sides of the channel is currently home to thousands of wintering birds.

Authorities aren’t yet sure how many birds are oiled, but at least 10 have died so far.

And this destruction isn’t the only recent oil-related disaster we’ve seen in the U.S. Last week, nearly 20,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from Sunoco-owned piping onto a acre of protected marshland in Ohio’s Oak Glen Nature Preserve. On Monday, 500 gallons of oil leaked into Lake Michigan from one of BP’s Indiana refineries.

Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The oil industry is doing just that. For decades, they have drilled and shipped oil at an alarming rate, leaving disaster in their wake so they can continue to rake in billions of dollars each year. Countless oil spills have threatened sensitive habitats, coated animals, and contaminated both land and water.

How many more oil spills will it take before the oil industry starts putting people and the environment before profits?

--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team

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