Valdez Spill, Undiminished, Turns Exxon a Profit

Exxon reports that it earned $39.5 billion in 2006, giving the company the most profitable year ever for a US corporation. This mammoth figure has overshadowed other Exxon related news released today. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study has found that lingering crude oil from the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 has barely budged. NOAA research chemist Jeffrey Short explained, “We expected the natural decay rate was 25% a year. But very little of the oil actually disappeared. What’s left is going to be there a long time.” Researchers now estimate that the oil is weathering at a rate of only 3% to 4% a year.

Continuing its campaign of
disinformation about all things environmental, Exxon spokesman Mark Boudreaux refuted the findings’ importance in an e-mail to USA Today: “There have been nearly 350 conference presentations or publications in peer-reviewed journals. Based on that body of scientific evidence, it is clear that there have been no effects on the environment that remain ecologically significant.”

How has Exxon remained so profitable, especially when it was responsible for the nation’s largest oil spill? It doesn’t hurt that the company managed to turn clean-up costs and legal fines it accrued in the aftermath of the disaster into tax write-offs. Additionally, by stretching its payments on a punitive damages settlement over 10 years, Exxon was able to collect millions in interest on money it had yet to pay.

–Celia Perry