Several years ago Shannyn Moore, Jeanne Devon and I went out to Prince William Sound [read the post from Jeanne Devon] on an assignment from BBC World Service. We were sent for the odd request that could only come from an international news agency like the BBC… gather sound. They didn’t need video, or pictures, just sound.
BBC had certainly been there before and had much in their catalog to make it sound like their reporter was in Alaska – but they were looking for sound from right then. It was July 4th weekend so instead of BBQ and beer the Mudflats crew were on a boat making our way out to Knight Island for the sole purpose of capturing what it sounded like at that moment on what locals often called ‘Diesel Beach.’
For me, it was mainly a journalistic endeavor. I had distinct memories of the spill – I followed it day by day, as much as I could from the national news but I had no idea what the Sound was like before. Shannyn knew, she had been there before, during and long after cleaning up what Exxon left behind. The promises from Exxon to do “whatever it takes to keep you whole” left many Alaskans feeling empty.
Exxon CEO Don Cornett told Alaskans that, “You have had some good luck and you don’t realize it… you have Exxon.” I’m not really sure what they consider bad luck.
“You have had some good luck and you don’t realize it. You have Exxon, and we do business straight. We will consider whatever it takes to keep you whole. You have my word on that – Don Cornett – I told you that.”
Alaskans didn’t. The fishing industry tanked nearly immediately. Exxon covered Prince William Sound with corexit, a poisonous spray that dissolved the oil… or anything that it saw as oil. That included parts of boats, parts of fish and parts of humans.
The oil didn’t go away though, it’s still there as you can see in these photos taken decades later.
Exxon didn’t make anyone whole. Especially the people that lived and died fishing the Prince William Sound. A lot of them died over the years since the spill. Many from suicide. Many from health complications from the spill itself.