Development and the Environment"
on the Sakhalin Offshore Oil and Gas Fields II
Copyright (C) 1999 by Slavic
Research Center, Hokkaido University.
All rights reserved
Lessons from Alaska for Sakhalin
- Social and
- The spill had an
extraordinary destabilizing effect on human communities in the region.
These communities are very dependent on commercial, subsistence, and
recreational harvesting of natural resources from the nearshore area,
and thus were particularly vulnerable to disruption caused by the
spill. Several studies documented that the social fabric of many such
communities essentially fell apart following the spill. There were well
documented, often dramatic increases in post-spill anxiety disorders,
post-traumatic stress, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic
violence, conflict among friends and within families, divorce, and even
suicides tied directly to the spill. These impacts came mostly from
uncertainty about the ecosystem's future, fear of food contamination,
the chaos of the cleanup, and the ongoing fish stock collapses. Today,
there is still a deep and profound sense of sadness in the region. Many
residents have moved elsewhere to avoid the ongoing stress and memory
of the spill.
- Economic Impacts:
- The spill forced
many fishery closures in 1989, and caused a depression in salmon prices
statewide out of fears of contaminated product reaching market. And
with fish stock collapses in the Sound, a continuing depression in the
fishing economy is apparent. While the year before the spill, the
harvest value of fisheries from the Sound was $82 million, the total
has been less than half of that since stocks collapsed in 1992. In 1993
Alyeska, the pipeline owner, paid $98 million to private claimants and
about $31 million to the governments to settle their liability for the
spill. A 1994 federal jury set Exxon's liability for compensatory
damages (lost income) to 30,000 plaintiffs at about $280 million.
Further, punitive damages of an unprecedented $5 billion were awarded
by the jury, but Exxon continues to resist paying any of this amount,
and ten years later the case remains on appeal in the 9th Circuit Court
of Appeals. Exxon spent over $2.1 on their attempted cleanup, and
another $1 billion for natural resource damages to the governments.
Depending on how the appeals in the private civil suit unfold, the
spill could ultimately cost Exxon well over $10 billion. Other damage
estimates for the spill were much higher, including almost $3 billion
in lost income by fishing industry and coastal businesses, and at least
$3 billion in non-economic, or natural resource damages. The economic
damage from this spill is, so far, without precedent.
- The spill also
initiated the most extensive attempt in history to mitigate damage from
an environmental disaster. The $1 billion Exxon payment to the
government was intended to be used specifically for the purposes of
"restoring, rehabilitating, replacing, or acquiring the equivalent of
natural resources injured by the oil spill." But even with all of this
money and all the scientific attention given the injured ecosystem, it
has become painfully obvious that little can be done to actually repair
the biological damage from the spill. This has indeed been a bitter
pill to swallow.
- While little in the way of direct restoration
was possible, most realized quickly that the coastal ecosystem faced
other serious threats, predominantly clear-cut logging of the
old-growth, coastal forest. Because these forests are critical habitat
for many of the bird and fish species injured by the spill, their
removal only further compromised recovery. Thus, the single most
significant accomplishment for the government restoration program has
been to acquire protections on over 700,000 acres of coastal habitat
along the shores of the region, costing over $400 million. Altogether,
some 1,300 miles of shoreline, including several hundred salmon
streams, have been permanently protected with these monies.
- Many feel that
this habitat protection was the most important positive legacy of the
Exxon Valdez spill.
- But despite this achievement, it is clear that
no amount of human intervention after a major oil spill will
significantly repair or replace lost natural resources.
- In summary, using
the Exxon Valdez spill as an example, several important lessons for
Sakhalin regarding major marine spills should be clearly understood:
spills can occur from a series of simple human errors
general, large spills cannot be contained - seldom is 10% recovered
cannot be recovered effectively from water or shorelines
damage can be extreme and long-lasting
and economic damage can be extreme and long-lasting
is generally not correctable
- The inescapable conclusion from this is that once
you've e spilled it, you've e lost. The damage is done and there
will be little anyone can do about it. Most of our efforts then, should
be focused on prevention of catastrophic spills.
- Thus, if
government and industry are really serious about wanting to prevent
environmental damage to the marine ecosystem off Sakhalin and Japan, it
is critical that many of the improvements suggested above be
implemented soon so that the offshore oil and gas projects are operated
in as safe a manner as possible.