Millions more sought from Exxon for spill

Officials say $92 million more needed to clean up lingering oil from 1989 tanker grounding

Posted: Friday, June 02, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Federal and state authorities asked the Exxon Mobil Corp. on Thursday for an additional $92 million to clean up residual oil from 1989's devastating Exxon Valdez spill.

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They said studies in the last five years have shown oil from the tanker's grounding still lingers in the tidal zones of Prince William Sound. The oil is reducing survival rates of some marine species and is disrupting fishing in the region, according to a joint statement released Thursday by the U.S. Justice Department and the state's Department of Law.

"It is clear that populations and habitat within the oil spill area have suffered substantial and unanticipated injuries that are attributable to the Exxon Valdez oil spill," Alaska Attorney General David Marquez said Thursday.

The nation's largest oil spill emptied 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound in 1989, killing hundreds of thousands of birds and marine animals and fouling more than 1,200 miles of rocky beach.

Irving, Texas-based Exxon has paid $900 million in restitution for the spill required in a 1991 civil settlement.

A "reopener" provision in the settlement created a window from 2002 to 2006 in which the state and federal governments could claim up to an additional $100 million.

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To claim the money, state and federal officials must prove that a population, habitat or species had suffered loss or decline in the area of the spill, and link that loss to the spill. They also must prove the loss was not known or anticipated when the settlement was signed.

Hundreds of studies by Exxon have shown the environmental impact to be less serious than claimed by other researchers. Company spokesman Mark Boudreaux said Thursday the request is based on "hypothesis."

"Nothing we have seen so far indicates that this request for further funding from Exxon is justified," Boudreaux said in a statement.

More than $100 million of the $900 million Exxon has paid has not yet been spent. Officials said they expect that to become an issue in negotiations.

"It was (their) duty to use this money to remedy the problem," Boudreaux said.

Most of that remaining money has already been set aside to help the flagging herring fishery, which has dwindled since 1993, said Craig Tillery, an Alaska deputy attorney general.

The state has until Sept. 1 to make financial demands of Exxon Mobil under the reopener provision. State and federal officials were required to provide the company with detailed plans and costs for any rehabilitation project at least 90 days before that date.

Alaska Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski sought to cut the process short by asking Exxon Mobil to voluntarily commit $100 million more to restoring the sound. The company, whose $36.1 billion in earnings last year were the highest ever by any U.S. corporation, rejected that proposal.

The claim is separate from an unresolved punitive damage judgment of $4.5 billion against the company, which it is appealing.

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