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Earth Science

Oil From the Exxon Valdez Spill Still Lingers On Alaska Beaches 261

Posted by samzenpus
from the sticking-around dept.
An anonymous reader writes "It's been 25 years since the Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound, and you can still find oil sticking to rocks. Worse yet, scientists say the oil could be around for decades yet to come. From the article: 'There are two main reasons why there's still oil on some of the beaches of the Kenai Fjords and Katmai National Parks and Preserves in the Gulf of Alaska, explains Gail Irvine, a marine ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and lead researcher on the study. When the oil first spilled from the tanker, it mixed with the seawater and formed an emulsion that turned it into a goopy compound, she says. "When oil forms into the foam, the outside is weathering, but the inside isn't," Irvine explains. It's like mayonnaise left out on the counter. The surface will crust over, but the inside of the clump still looks like mayonnaise, she explains.'"
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Oil From the Exxon Valdez Spill Still Lingers On Alaska Beaches

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  • Mmmm....Mayonnaise.

  • Consequences... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Thantik (1207112) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @11:04PM (#46385453)
    Consequences only exist for those too poor to fight them. Exxon should have been made responsible for taking care of the entire area until all the oil was cleaned up, but that would have driven them out of business...and we can't have that!
    • Re:Consequences... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by noh8rz10 (2716597) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @11:08PM (#46385471)

      to be fair, if you punished them so hard that they went out of business, then they wouldn't be able to clean up. ideally you punish them enough so they pay a lot while remaining in business a long time to continue to pay a lot.

      • Re:Consequences... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by fustakrakich (1673220) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @11:27PM (#46385529) Journal

        Asset forfeiture... Used on pot smokers all the time... Take it out of the board members' pockets.

        • Re:Consequences... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @11:53PM (#46385615) Homepage Journal

          There just aren't enough mod points for this post. We will have a decent society when we have a just society.

          • The problem lies in the definition of "just" - the term is too subjective.

            Also, let's think more than two steps ahead here: sure, you could seize the assets of every board member - that would get you approximately what, a few hundred million? Maybe a couple of billion at first blush? Well, probably not: consider that most of their easily-seizable assets are tied up in the company's stock, and that such a simple announcement of seizure would cause that stock value to evaporate almost overnight. Hell, I doubt

            • "The problem lies in the definition of "just" - the term is too subjective."

              Then let me define it for you. The laws apply evenly and equally to everyone.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Take it out of the board members' pockets.

          What about the shareholders? You couldn't do it without them. Why should they be absolved of liability for the behavior they funded? Oh, because people might not invest willy-nilly in any random bullshit? Gee, that would be terrible. We all know that oil companies do evil and we all know they need our money to do it.

        • Re:Consequences... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday March 03, 2014 @10:04AM (#46387457)
          "Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility." -Ambrose Bierce

          The whole point of a corporation is to pretend it's not individual people doing something, it's a entity called the corporation. The other essential part of the corporation is it can evaporate instantly when needed, with very little of the profits evaporating. This is not true of pot smokers, which is why it works for pot smokers but not for corporations. Everyone has been pretending it for so long that holding the individuals responsible is unthinkable in politics, and has been for as long as I've been alive.

          That said, some profits would evaporate with the corporation, it's not a painless procedure, so I would have preferred that.
      • Re:Consequences... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Immerman (2627577) on Sunday March 02, 2014 @11:29PM (#46385537)

        How about they pay half of all profits until the problem is *solved*. Make it *hurt* so that they *never* want to have such a thing happen again.

        • While I understand the feeling, you can also make it hurt so much that they no longer bother.

          What if they just sell off their assets and move on with life?

          Think of it like child support, which already has gone too far in many cases. Many people are ordered to pay more than they really can (yes, there are deadbeats too), so they do work for cash to keep it "off the books".

          You can only "punish" people so hard before they change their behavior, the harsher the punishment, the more they will change to avoid it

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            What if they just sell off their assets and move on with life?

            Who would buy them if there is a standing order to clean up a mess before they can turn a full profit again? And who cares if they do? We want the beaches cleaned up first and foremost, and we want the assets that causes the fuck-up to pay the price. It doesn't really matter who holds the assets at any given time. Sure, revenge would be nice too.

            • What if they just sell off their assets and move on with life?

              Who would buy them if there is a standing order to clean up a mess before they can turn a full profit again?

              You assume they'd sell the whole thing in one go. Most folks who run a corporation are smart enough to start spinning off new companies, each taking a substantial chunk of the assets until all you have left of the old one is the name, an office somewhere, and maybe a desk and chair in it. If you're lucky there may be a working telephone on the desk.

            • by khallow (566160)

              We want the beaches cleaned up first and foremost

              Sounds like maybe you should pony up then. One of the problems with pollution mitigation is that it uses Other Peoples' Money and is mandated by people who don't care how expensive it is to clean up pollution to a arbitrarily low level. This leads to creation of externalities by the regulators - fining businesses and whatnot for effort that no one else would willingly pay for.

              I think that large fines should have a deductible, just like most insurance does. If Exxon pays a $900 million payment for cleanup

          • by Immerman (2627577)

            So what if they do? The entire concept of a corporation is a legal fiction, we can set the rules to be whatever we like.

            Rule 1 - No corporation may engage in any activity in which the costs of repairing any public/environmental/etc. damage from a worst-case scenario cannot be covered by liquidating company assets. No hiding the assets behind shell corporations allowed.

            Rule 2 - In the aftermath of a catastrophe if corporate assets fall to within N% of the estimated recovery costs the company will be immedi

            • by sFurbo (1361249)

              No corporation may engage in any activity in which the costs of repairing any public/environmental/etc. damage from a worst-case scenario cannot be covered by liquidating company assets.

              This will severely restrict the number of companies who can work in any given field, leading to lack of competition and all of the inefficiencies that follows from that.

              Why not allow the companies to take out insurance for such events? That would (ideally) make the payment scale directly with the risk of failure, so that new companies can start a small operation without massive investments, and so that companies that have bad policies are punished for having the bad policies, not for the failures that th

              • by Immerman (2627577)

                Fair enough, provided that funding for repairs is *guaranteed* meaning that even if a catastrophe is due to gross negligence or intentional sabotage, some combination of insurance and company liquidation will still cover it. And that the insurance company has to be able to cover their liabilities even if several unrelated catastrophes occur in the same bad year. That's going to drive the cost of insurance through the roof, much like medical malpractice insurance, and that means we'd be siphoning a pretty

            • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

              by u38cg (607297)
              No, and there is literally no point in you flapping your jaw about this issue because you understand so little about it.
            • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

              The problem is that a lot of activity would then become impossible for almost any corporation. For example Fukushima is looking like it will end up in the hundreds of billions of dollars range to sort out, and few energy companies are worth that much. Also after such an accident the value of the company's other assets would likely plummet, e.g. because of safety issues that were discovered and now need putting right.

              It's the same with insurance. The oil industry just doesn't have enough and the nuclear indu

              • by Immerman (2627577)

                That's also a viable option. The problem arises only when we socialize the risks but privatize the profits.

          • by AK Marc (707885)

            You can only "punish" people so hard before they change their behavior, the harsher the punishment, the more they will change to avoid it.

            Maybe it could get them to stop doing trillions of dollars in damage. That changed behavior is good.

          • by DarkOx (621550)

            Gee and here I thought the point of punishing people is to get them to change their behavior. Clearly the difference between punishment and restitution is too complex for Slashdot grasp

            • Sometimes that is the point of punishment, to get them to change their behavior... but sometimes it isn't...

              After all, when you put someone to death, clearly you aren't going to get them to change anything (other than prevent them from doing it again).

              And frankly, it doesn't seem to deter much crime either, the general view seems to be that people don't think they'll get caught or don't think it will happen to them. So punishing someone else doesn't seem to do much outside of minor punishments for minor c

          • No company folds because of reduced profit. Taking half the profit means they're getting rich at a slower pace, it cannot put the company in trouble. Child support wouldn't be bankrupting anyone if it were a percentage of profits after deducting all living expenses, either.
            • Actually, that isn't true...

              How you live your life and how capital is invested in companies is not the same thing.

              If you take half of a company's profits, then the investors in that company have to decide if the return on investment is still worthwhile. They may well put their money into another company that has no such restrictions and make more profit.

              Capital gets invested in projects that return enough in profit to make the investment worthwhile. Take away half that profit and the company may no longer

        • by Sarten-X (1102295)

          You say that like you think every executive gets out of bed in the morning saying "Today, I'm going to fuck over the world. I think I'll start with that pesky Alaskan wildlife."

          • Re:Consequences... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Immerman (2627577) on Monday March 03, 2014 @01:29AM (#46385909)

            No, but they seem to mostly get out of bed and say "Today I'm going to make a lot of money, and fuck anyone/thing who gets hurt in the process"

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            You say that like you think every executive gets out of bed in the morning saying "Today, I'm going to fuck over the world. I think I'll start with that pesky Alaskan wildlife."

            Close enough. "Today, I'm going to go make some money, and if it hurts people, fuck 'em." Explain in detail why that is not accurate if you disagree — it seems to match up perfectly with the behavior of every petroleum company.

            • by Toth (36602)

              If the oil companies had their way, the spill would not have taken place. The Business Proposal was the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. The environmental folks opposed it because it. There were hearings and it was denied. "The noise of construction might frighten the caribou.!", etc.

        • by uncqual (836337)

          Perhaps we should assess every person (and their heirs if they are no longer alive) who bought gasoline from Exxon over the prior 20 years an annual surcharge. After all, they presumably benefited in the form of lower prices derived from Exxon (and most everyone else) not using more collision resistant tankers. These people should have, instead, sought out the most ecologically friendly oil company's products - they instead chose to bury their heads in the sand and go with the lowest cost gasoline and were

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            The customers have no knowledge of, nor ability to change, Exxon's practices. Even if *nobody* bought Exxon gasoline, they would have bought gasoline handled by Exxon. They just wouldn't have known.
            • Then again, no one on the board knew of the captain's little toke habit, and I doubt that they knew anything about the efficacy of their cleanup plan beforehand, at least outside of having some ostensibly smart consultants say "oh, this will work perfectly!"

              Plausible deniability works in both directions too...

        • 50% of profits as a cap on liability? Great!

          Now smaller unprofitable oil companies can take big risks.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        if you punished them for 30 billion dollars then you would have the 30 billion dollars for the cleanup and if it was too much the remaining tankers and oil refineries sold to highest bidder so I don't really see the downside there..

        • by Firethorn (177587)

          I don't really see the downside there..

          I don't see it mentioned in this article, but I've read that part of the problem is that existing cleanup methods cause more damage to the enviornment than the oil does. The scrubbing, soaps and such required damages the coastline as well. It's faster to let it degrade naturally, though that can take decades with the colder temperatures up there.

        • if you punished them for 30 billion dollars then you would have the 30 billion dollars for the cleanup and if it was too much the remaining tankers and oil refineries sold to highest bidder so I don't really see the downside there..

          ...which would last only as long as it takes for prices at the gas pump to skyrocket, at which point the public would take up pitchforks and torches and demand that the company's assets be put back to work again immediately.

          There really aren't that many oil companies out there, and taking one out would put a pretty big dent in the global logistics. Petroleum, like Spice, must flow.

      • I think this is appropriate here: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id... [smbc-comics.com]

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        Their market cap was such that if they didn't pay, you nationalize them, then sell off the parts (stock or equipment, depending on which is worth more). And you'd get a better result.
    • Exxon should have been made responsible for taking care of the entire area until all the oil was cleaned up

      It would be far better to fine them, and then use the money for something that actually makes sense. Spraying harsh detergents into the water is doing more harm than good. Wiping rocks off with paper towels is just moving the oil from one place to another while consuming lots of paper towels. Neither would make much difference on a coastline a thousand miles long. Instead, the money should be spent on prevention: double hulled tankers, better navigation equipment, faster/better first responders, etc.

    • Why is everything couched as if it's either; a tiny pittance of responsibility or "they go out of business -- JOBS - OMG!!!"? That was a rhetorical question. It's advantageous to companies like Exxon that the argument always be; Free Enterprise vs. No Enterprise.

      Exxon got the contract to extract the oil from the Inuit because they PROMISED to have radar and warning systems set in place and not crash their tankers. The "big lie" is that a one drunk captain crashed the ship -- and he went along with it. Ther

    • by operagost (62405)

      25 years ago, this WAS considered an adequate cleanup. This may shock Slashdot, but we're come very far since then. That's why the Deepwater Horizon spill cleanup was so effective.

      Perhaps it would help if I quoted the part of the article that WASN'T in the summary:

      Researchers aren't sure how much oil remains ensconced under these bouldersâ€"that would require a different kind of study. "We think it's low levels," says Irvine. "Quite frankly, I didn't think [oil] would be there becaus

  • "It's like mayonnaise left out on the counter. The surface will crust over, but the inside of the clump still looks like mayonnaise,"

    I don't understand that analogy. Does someone have a car analogy to explain it for me?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by laejoh (648921)
      Here you are: "It's like mayonnaise left out on the roof of your car. The surface will crust over, but the inside of the clump still looks like mayonnaise,"
  • by MrKaos (858439) on Monday March 03, 2014 @05:34AM (#46386379) Journal
    Deep Water horizon is all cleaned up. All gone.
    • by PPH (736903)

      Aside from differences in the type of crude, I suspect that the breakdown speed has a lot to do with water temperature. The bacteria that eat the crude probably do a lot better in the warm Gulf waters than in Alaska.

    • by plopez (54068)

      And the rig workers who died have been resurrected.

    • by Algae_94 (2017070)

      Big difference in water temperatures in the two locations. There was also 20+ years of knowledge gained from spill cleanups between the two accidents.

  • Irvine explains. It's like mayonnaise left out on the counter. The surface will crust over, but the inside of the clump still looks like mayonnaise, she explains.'"

    Hate to think what this girls kitchen looks like.

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