tv The Spill CSPAN August 16, 2019 11:56am-12:27pm EDT
direction of a given society. woodstock, 50 years. sunday at 9:00 a.m. eastern. i woke up at my home. it was all over the news. i was in disbelief. how does this happen. the second reaction just shock. they spilled 11 million gallons of oil. covered like 11,000 square miles of ocean before it was done. the scale was inconceivable until it happened. >> where were you working? >> i was worked for the news.
i was a reporter at the time during investigative work but also covering business. i had covered oil even before this bill. >> can you tell us what the history of the oil industry was in alaska? how large was it during that time? >> the modern oil industry we know today got started in alaska in 1967. it was a huge oil strike. the pipeline began operating in 1973. about 15 years past. the oil industry in alaska from the day oil was discovered had an enormous mind share in this state. it was instantly recognized as the biggest source of funding for state government. for a long time it was the only source that mattered. the oil industry produced money
so fast that one of the jokes was even the alaska legislature couldn't waste it all. the oil industry took an acute interest in policy. over time their influence over the legislature became enormous and it was almost more mandatory to be oil friendly to get elected to the legislature in this state. >> who were some of the big companies operating out of here? >> the big three were and are pb, exxon mobile and conoco phillips. over the time the names have changed as companies merge and absorbed each other. early in the day what's now conoco was really arco.
the big three players haven't changed much. the big two are bp and exxon. >> you mentioned their influence over the legislature. what does that mean for regulations regarding oil in the state? >> that meant it was always an enormous battle to get any new regulation in place and the trend really ran in the opposite direction. regulations tend to get looser, not tighter. that was factor of what happened in the oil spill. most regulations having to do with the operation of that tanker, the exxon valdez were federal in origin and focus. the regulations having to do with cleanup, on the other hand, were fundamentally at the state level. that was part of the problem. regulations were a big part of the problem. the federal oversight was too loose and that's why the tanker
had to leave and the state oversight of cleanup was too loose and that's why the company that runs the system was just unprepared for a cleanup. for the first three days or so there was no clean up effort. there was ideal cleanup weather. they had sound at that time of the year. they had three days of really good weather after the spill. we had this glossy lake of oil spreading out to the tanker and nothing happened to clean it up. >> can you explain to me the people who are watching, how does the oil process work? where is the oil pulled from and why was it even on a tanker truck or tanker and where was it going? >> sure. the oil is produced on okalaska north slope which is up in the arctic. really a harr ch environme-- ha
environment. it's hard to operate. you have to be careful not to disrupt things. population of caribou and polar bears that have to be protected. oil industry has done a pretty good job on that part of it. on north slope the two big fields are just gigantic. on the north slope it's put into a pipeline that hundreds 800 miles south across the middle of alaska to the port of valdez on prince william sound. there it's loaded onto oil tankers and shipped to marketed on the u.s. west coast. i think the exxon valdez was headed for long beach. it was carrying about 53 million gallons of oil. it lost about 20% of its cargo.
the rest is history, sadly. >> can we talk about what happened on that day? >> sure. the tanker left valdez a little bit more before pmidnight and a 12:04 a.m. on the 24th of march which is good friday, it hit a well known and well marked navigation at prince william sound. what happened earlier in the day, there had been reports of iceberg in the tanker lanes. the captain requested permission to deviate from the tanker lanes to avoid these icebergs in case they were still there. it's fairly tricky maneuver but nothing usual. it happened all the time. the failure was to return to the tanker lanes at the proper point and instead the ship saled into the reef.
there was some conditions on the ship that contributed to the accident. the master was the guy named joe. it was always a question to whether he was drinking and if he was drinking, was it a factor. that was never established clearly. i kind of doubt it myself. what he did was to put the third me mate in charge of the bridge and go below to do paper work. the tanker crews and this is identified as one of the factors in the accident. the nithird mate was in charge the brig. he wasn't qualified.
>> how much oil was this tanker carrying and how much spilled out? >> it had about 53 million gallons on board. the question of how much it lost has been controversial so the number i gave you is really kind of generally accepted figure. the reason it's hard to figure out how much oil it lost is that as the oil came out, water came in. >> you mentioned this happened in prince william sound. where is that located and if people had visited there prior
to the oil spill, what would they have found there? >> prince william sound is located on the gulf of alaska. it's a couple hundred miles south of anchorage. it's probably more orless in middle of the state. it's this beautiful expansive enclosed waters with islands and peninsulas and coastlines and rich population of sea birds and fish and animals. anyone who ever visited prince william sound has just been stunned by the natural beauty and relatively untouched by man. normally you see a few fishing boats on the water. normally coming in with containers but very little touch from the hand of man. then you have this tanker that spilled this oil and fouled
everything in sight. it was a shock to the conscious and to consciousness, how could this happen. >> how fast does it travel? >> the oil in and of itself doesn't float fast. it doesn't disperse into the water if the water is calm. if you get a storm then it gets churned up by the waves and mixes into the water. when that happen, it is a threat to fish and plankton and so on in the water. when it's on the surface, it's a threat to bird and sea otters and whales because they have to come up and breathe. after it floats around for a while, it hits the beaches and destroys the beach ecosystems.
>> when was, i guess, exxon alerted that the spill happened and when did the actual efforts to try and stop it begin? >> i'm sure immediately. they said we're hard to ground and we're leaking some oil. he said on the radio he was going to try to rock the boat and get off the reef and proceed which was terrifying possibility. there's ship was so bad ly damae that it would have sunk or capsized. he didn't. it stayed on the reef and
continued to leak oil. the he response effort began immediately. there were so few resources of boats and boons and clean up equipment available that not much could be done. >> did exxon have a plan for this kind of thing? >> a response plan? >> a response plan. did alaska have a response plan? >> the primary responsibility for the response plan fell on o exxon. in valdez, the response plan, at least in the immediate aftermath of the spill is carried out by the pipeline service company. when there's a spill they were responsible for the first three days of the response. they send out the boats and
booms. after that first three day, the spiller is supposed the take over and exxon did that. >> what is the process of cleaning up oil? what has to be done and what are some of the challenges with an oil spill of that magnitude? >> to over simplify it a bit, there's two aspects of clean up. one is containment. try not to led it spread any further than it has and the other is removal. both are very difficult. we had a huge area that had spilled oil on it. then some of the oil, a lot of the oil hit the beaches and immersed itself in sand and gravel and plants and all that kind of stuff.
one of the responses was to use something called a dispersement and it's called corexit. it's supposed to break the oil once it gets into the water into tiny little smaller globs that can be processed by bacteria and so on in the water. oil is an organic substance. given the right time and circumstance, nature will reprocess into harmless things. the problem is correction is pretty poisonous itself. it's not clear that it actually did what it was supposed to do. there are some evidence that what we ended up with was not one poison in the water but two. oil over here and corexit here. it was a failure. they noticed the oil and the rocks on the beaches. they had two solutions for that. one was ridiculous and one was devastating. the ridiculous one a and there's
a lot of photographs and video. they hired people to go out on the beach with paper towels and wipe the oil off the rocks. yes, they did. the second thing they did was they decided, well, what we'll do is get high pressure hot water washers and it will wash the oil back into the water and then we can clean it up. they may have cleaned up some oil that way. they did further damage to the eco system on the beaches with this hot water that was hot and also probably blasted some of the oil deeper into the sand. the cleanup was for the most part a failure. i think i recall some claim that maybe they got 15% of the oil but that's just a wild guess. nobody really knows. it's probably fair to say the most part the cleanup was a pr
effort. to show america and the world that something was being done to clean up this oil. one of the exxon officials said they would clean it all up. they didn't even come close. >> how far did the oil spread? >> i think the farthest oil was like 12 or 1300 miles away. it came up to where anchorage is. a completely different body of water and by sea several hundred miles. we talked a few minutes ago about who had to come up with a response plan. i told you the primary responsibility lay on the spiller, which is true. at the same time all the agencies, federal and state that are in line to participate in the spill, they have to have their own response time to say what they are going to do.
everybody in prince william sound, every agency in prince william sound was theoretically ready, as a practical matter. none of them were. they were on the fronds lit lin. the oil spill had a devastating impact. that other than the people who worked for the oil industry, fishing was the mainstay of the economy. outside of valdez it was fishing. they get salmon out of this. fish, herring, crab and after the spill, the fisheries were closed because it would have only taken one oil salmon to hit the market in seattle to just destroy the market for years to come. they just shut it down and said no fishing. that was the first impact of it. la later on it turned out some of
those populations were damaged. herring was one big example and i think fish was another. the fact that fishing was shut down and everybody was going broke, this agonizing dilemma on the fisherman of prince william sound. that was should their hire their boat and crews and themselves out to help with the cleanup. there were some who just couldn't do it. they just couldn't work for exxo exxons. there were others that could and promoted hideous divisions in prince william sound. they were call spillionaires. they made millions of dollars off the spill. this disruption was real social dysfunction. this was one of the things studied by the group i worked for and there were increases in
every form of family and social dysfunction you could imagine. there was more drinking. there was more suicide. more divorces, more family violence. everything bad that could happen to a small sort of industry and society happened to those in prince william sound. >> how long did it take the clean up until it was completed? >> the clean up was intensive in the first year and continued in the summer for another year or two and was discontinued. there just wasn't much left to do. it's worst saying that even today there's some oil under some beaches in prince william sound. not a lot. just a few thousands gallons now. it is a testament to the persistence of this oil. that's a cold climate, cool at least. one the oil gets below the s surface, it doesn't degrade very fast.
it's possible to put a boom around it. the other big change which was fiercely add voe kalted by people in prince william sound and by alaska in general, even before the oil craze started was to require double hulls on oil tankers. a double hull is exactly what it sounds like. before double hulls you'd have a bunch of oil in the tanker and and then you have sea water. any puncture would result in an oil leak. with double hulls on the size of tankers, there are two hulls separated by a bout. 11 feet of air space or whatever they want in there. you can get fairly serious puncture and have no leak. it was estimated after the spill that if the exxon valdez had a double hull, the spill would
have been dramatically reduced. it would have made a tremendous different. as people called it, the oil pollution act of 1990 did require that ships coming into valdez and all american ports that carry oil had to have double hulls by certain deadlines. they did make the deadlines. >> did this oil spill affect the oil industry's influence in the alaska legislature and also did alaska impose any regulations? as far as the political climate goes alaskans were down on the
oil industry. a lot of people work many the oil industry. a lot of people know the benefits they get from the state come from the money, tax from the oil industry and then we have in the state this thing called the alaska permanent partner which was made up entirely from part of the oil revenue and stands at $60 billion. the income from that fund is starting to pay for state government because oil revenues have declined as oil production has declined. one of the uses that fund has been put to is something called the alaska permanent fund divide dividend. the state sends every alaskan a check. we all know it comes from oil money. now it's the earnings from the fund but that fund came from oil
money. as i was saying earlier, oil and the oil industry has this tremendous mind share in alaska. at times it's a lot of hate relationship. people, a lot of people hated the oil industry because of that spill. a lot of them still do because of the way kind of controls our politics. kind of like a bad marriage. it's not quite bad enough to get out of. >> you talk about the bp oil spill that happened off of the coast of louisiana. were there any similarities and did they learn anything from what happened in alaska? >> there were no real parallels to completely different sets of circumstances. what was similar for us watching from afar was the fact the oil industry was just caught flat footed. i'm sure they had all kinds of plan to keep that from happening
on the oil ring and plans to deal with it but did any of it work? no it did not. the oil got loose and spread and spread and spread. what was very similar and very too a considerable extent the same up here was the impact on communities that lived along the coast of the gulf especially the fishing communities. after that spill, a lot of people from that area came up here to look at what we had done in the prince william sound advisory council in having a mechanism to give citizens a voice in how the oil industry operates in these areas. the flow just went on for day after day for an inconceivable amount of time where as the exxon valdez was a one and done event. >> do you think that the oil
industry has learned its lessons from valdez and the oil spill off the coast of louisiana? >> yes and no. yes because in the immediate aftermath they did respond. if history is any guide, those intentions will be lost. the intention of the oil industry on getting lighter regulation never waned. they will always be there and always doing that. i have a saying about capitalism. capitalism is a mole. it has no soul and soshs ne consciousness. the goal is to minimize costs and maximize revenue. that's in its dna.
capitalism is a wonderful tool for increasing economic efficiency but it comes with a whole set of risks and we have seen the consequences in the gulf of mexico and prince william sound. what society must never do is forget it's up to society to set the rules under which capitalism operates. as i say, capitalism in and of itself has no soul onds no and ralty. -- morality. it's up to society to never let up. all week we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. lectures in history. american artifact, real america, the civil war, oral history, the presidency and special event coverage about our nation's
history. enjoy american history tv now and every weekend on c-span3. we're featuring american history tv programs. tonight, a look at world war ii. saturday on american history tv. at 10:00 p.m. eastern on real america. the 1970 film communityist on campus. >> yes they are communists. their commission proclaim the
violent over throw of the democrat system. our nation seems unbelieving, even unconcerned. >> i said if they took it outside, suppose they get all these people. he said about 50,000. i said no, there has to be 100,000. my wife said there will be more than 300,000, just like that. i swear to god i looked off that terrace and i say that field. i was looking at a dream that came true. >> they were not content with their lot.
they wanted to resist their enslavement and wanted to run away. they were not successful and capture. as punishment, their toes were cut off. more than 500,000 students competed this year at the local level of national history day. the theme was triumph and tragedy. presentation categories include exhibit, website, documentary, paper and performance. up next, a ten-minute performance by three middle school student. >> this is glowing