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FW: Exxon Valdez Interview: Rick Steiner
This being the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, I thought many
of you (especially those in the media) might find the interview appended
below interesting. Let us pray something similar doesn't ever happen on
our Great Lakes...
In 1979, our coastal engineer, Philip Keillor, took a trip on a fuel oil
tanker traveling from Duluth to Indiana Harbor and published his
observations and research into the spill risks -- "THE HAZARDS OF TANK
SHIPS AND BARGES TRANSPORTING PETROLEUM PRODUCTS ON THE GREAT LAKES" --
in COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL 8(04):0319-0336, 1980.
Send my assistant, email@example.com, an email with your postal
address if you'd like a free reprint of that paper.
- Stephen Wittman
Assistant Director for Communications
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute
voice (608) 263-5371 * fax (608) 262-0591
From: Ben Sherman [mailto:sherman@NASW.ORG]
Sent: Wednesday, March 24, 1999 10:23 AM
Subject: Exxon Valdez Interview: Rick Steiner
For Immediate Release:
Exxon Valdez Ten Years Later -
An Interview With Rick Steiner
Rick Steiner, an Alaska Sea Grant Marine Extension Agent from Cordova,
Alaska, was one of the first people on the scene in Prince William Sound
when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground. He helped marshal the
first responses to what would turn out to be a major environmental
disaster, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.
Below is a mini-interview with Steiner about the spill. Steiner is in
Anchorage at the scientific symposium, "Legacy of an Oil Spill: Ten
Years After the Exxon Valdez." The gathering runs March 23-26 and is
co-sponsored by Alaska Sea Grant and Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee
Council. After the symposium he can be contacted at 907-274-9691 ext.
108 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org Note Alaska time zone is four
hours earlier that EST.
The perspectives offered below are the personal opinions of Rick
Steiner. They do not reflect those of Alaska Sea Grant, the University
of Alaska or the National Sea Grant College Program and are provided in
conjunction with Sea Grant's role as an information broker, and does not
constitute endorsement in any way.
Q: Do you think a spill will occur again in Prince William Sound, and if
so are there plans in place to adequately respond to prevent as wide
spread damage as in 1989?
Steiner: "There is a very good possibility that another catastrophic
spill can occur in Prince William Sound. It could happen with any
loaded tanker. Experience has shown that even with the improvements
made in the oil transportation system through the sound, mistakes
"We've had several very close calls with loaded tankers in recent
years. The fully loaded tanker "Kenai" almost hit Entrance Island, and
once almost hit Middle Rock in Valdez Narrows. The Overseas Ohio -
unloaded on approach - smacked into a large iceberg and ripped a huge
hole in its bow.
"Humans being humans, we need to do better at providing safeguards in
the system - namely, we need an entire fleet of double-hull tankers now,
not waiting until 2015, as The Oil Protection Act of 1990 allows.
Surprisingly, 10 years after the Exxon Valdez, we still don't have one
new tanker in the Trans Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) trade - most of our boats
"Regarding spill response preparedness, we have a better system here
now, but we need to be honest with ourselves about spill response - it
just doesn't work, it has never worked with major spills, and perhaps
never will. There has never been a case where a significant percentage
of a major spill was contained or removed from the water or beaches -
"In many weather scenarios here in Alaska, virtually none would be
recoverable. The plans here next time are to disperse the spill as much
as possible - transferring the damage from the water surface down into
the water column, which may be the appropriate thing to do, or may not.
"Regardless, if millions of gallons of oil spills into a productive
marine ecosystem, the amount that can be removed by humans will
certainly be irrelevant to the amount of damage caused. We can't
contain spills, we can't remove oil from the water effectively, we can't
rehabilitate oiled wildlife, and we can't restore injured ecosystems or
human communities - which all adds up to prevention as the only
Q: What still needs to be done to prevent a similar accident?
Steiner: "We still need new double-hull tankers, with twin engines,
twin props and rudders, and bow thrusters - the sort of tankers that
ARCO is now building in Louisiana. They only cost $100 million or so,
so our entire fleet could be built for $2 - $3 billion. Many U.S. ports
are still at even more risk of major spills than we are here in Alaska.
These ports are lacking adequate tug escorts, VTS surveillance, rescue
tugs/salvage protocols (witness the New Carissa), well defined traffic
lanes, speed restrictions, adequate exclusion zones, and Regional
Citizens Advisory Councils such as the one we set up here."
Q: Personally what are you most proud of concerning your role in the
spill and its aftermath?
Steiner: "I suppose that we were able to catalyze an out-of-court
settlement of natural resource damages between Exxon and the government,
and apply much of those monies toward the acquisition and protection of
fish and wildlife habitat along the coast of the oil spill region. Out
of this effort, about 700,000 acres of some of the most extraordinary,
productive coastal habitat in the world has been protected from other
damaging activity (clearcutting, etc.), and it has protected hundreds of
salmon streams, and hundreds of miles of shoreline."
Q: What is your biggest disappointment?
Steiner: "The biggest disappointment has been that society hasn't
learned the important lessons of the Exxon Valdez. We seem to be
avoiding our need to use oil more efficiently - i.e., we could produce
the same GNP on as little as 1/2 the amount of oil that we are presently
using, just with presently available technologies. We waste far more
oil everyday than comes down the Trans Alaska Pipeline. Also, I had
hoped for a drastic reordering of our societal priorities, focusing more
on sustainability rather than short-term profit. That hasn't happened,
and that, I'm afraid, is the most profound disappointment out of this
Q: How do you feel about the media "spot light" at the 10-year
Steiner: "We are very glad to see the international attention focus
once again on this disaster, as it may be the last teachable moment.
The attention, however, has opened up old wounds that are very painful.
Unfortunately some of the coverage has been of the tenor of 'blame the
victim' (i.e. the money that has been and will be paid to the victims)
and that further inflames the emotional scars."
--- 30 ---
Ben Sherman, Media Relations Coordinator
National Sea Grant College Program
841 National Press Building
529 14th Street NW
Washington D.C. 20045-2277
Phone: 202-662-7095 Fax: 202-662-7093
WWW News Media Center Site: http://www.mdsg.umd.edu/seagrantmediacenter/