May 16, 2006
I saw rock band R.E.M. in concert seventeen years ago, just after the Exxon Valdez ran aground spilling its oily guts with devastating effect on Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The two events were not related in any way, but the band’s singer, Michael Stipe, implored fans everywhere to boycott Exxon and its European equivalent Esso because the company, he said had failed the environment on so many counts.
Seventeen years later and compelling new evidence is emerging that shows remnants of the worst oil spill in U.S. history extend farther into tidal waters than previously thought. The findings suggest that the oil is causing unanticipated long-term harm to wildlife. The finding appears in the online edition of Environmental Science & Technology, according to chemist Jeffrey Short and colleagues at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau, Alaska.
“This study shows that it is very plausible that exposure to Exxon Valdez oil is having a material impact on many shore-dwelling animals and is contributing to their slow recovery in some parts of Prince William Sound,” Short says. “Sea otters, for instance, have yet to re-inhabit Herring Bay, the most oiled bay we studied, and the population of otters elsewhere around northern Knight Island continues to decline. Unfortunately, because much of this oil is buried in beach sediments and not exposed to weathering and other elements that might degrade it, it could remain hazardous to wildlife for decades.”
In their study, Short and his colleagues found significant amounts of Exxon Valdez oil buried in sand and silt that only becomes dry during the lowest tides. This biologically diverse zone is a prime feeding ground for sea otters, ducks and other wildlife.
You can read the full story on the American Chemical Society site or grab the research paper if you have a subscription.