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Exxon Valdez, lingering biological impacts?

Jun 2, 2006 |

Nearly twenty years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the government says Exxon needs to pay up. To date, Exxon has paid nine hundred million dollars in restitution for the oil spill. But now federal and state authorities say that money was not enough. They are asking the oil giant for nearly a hundred million more.

The original 1991, civil suit against Exxon says the government has until September of this year to claim up to a hundred million more dollars from the company. That is, if they can prove that entire populations are feeling the negative effect of the oil spill. But Exxon doesn't think they can do that.

"The current request seems to be focused primarily, if not exclusively, on the hypothesis that remaining weathered oil might be capable of causing some biological impacts. Nothing that we have seen so far indicates that this request for further funding is justified," said Mark Boudreaux, Exxon Mobil.

The attorney general's office says multiple studies show the oil is reducing survival rates of some marine species and disrupting local fishing. And as a recent CBS 11 News I-Team investigation found out, residents of the area agree.

"We are the only area in the state that has no herring fishery and has not had a herring fishery for a number of years. And we are the only ones who had an oil spill happen," said Ross Mullins, Cordova Resident.

The government must now prove that the effects we are seeing today from the oil spill weren't at all expected -- something Exxon claims they just can't do.

"The remaining pockets of oil were fully anticipated when the federal and state governments looked at the evidence from prior spills. So, there is nothing surprising that has occurred since 1991," said Boudreaux.

And based on that alone, exxon says there is no justification for this reopener clause. But the alaska attorney general's office disagrees.

"We know there is lingering oil because we have dug it up and found it. We dug over six thousand pits looking for it. And it was detected in the water column. It remains there in not only greater quantities, but it is substantially more toxic than anyone believed would be true at this point," said Craig Tillery, Alaska Deputy Attorney General.

Exxon does admit that oil remains in the sound, but they say it isn't harming anything.

"There's no evidence that it could cause, or is causing, any damage to any population or species. The spill occurred 17 years ago, and we deeply regret that the spill had emotional and financial impact in the short-term. And many people have deep emotional feelings about it today about it," said Boudreaux.

Even if Exxon does pay up, it might not be enough to repair the lives on the Prince William Sound.

"We lost pretty much all hope here. And that's a real sad feeling for the people. There used to be 3,600 that lived here year round. Now we have 2,400," said Kory Blake, Resident.

Exxon Mobil now has 90 days to evaluate the government's request before they respond. Of course, CBS 11 News will continue to monitor this case and we will bring you any new information as it becomes available.

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