State, feds won’t pursue $92M more in ’89 Exxon Valdez spill

JUNEAU — The state and federal governments have decided not to pursue $92 million in additional damages from Exxon Mobil Corp., citing the recovery of ducks and sea otters in Alaska’s Prince William Sound following a devastating oil spill more than two decades ago.

In a court filing made on Wednesday, government attorneys said patches of lingering oil that remain can no longer be considered an impediment to the recovery of sea otters or harlequin ducks or a significant ongoing threat to their now-restored populations in the area affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The filing came ahead of a scheduled status hearing in federal court in Anchorage on Thursday.

Lawsuits brought against Exxon by the governments after the spill led to a $900 million settlement and a consent decree that resolved claims related to natural-resource damages. The decree included a so-called “reopener” clause that allowed for the governments to seek additional funds for restoration projects.

In 2006, near the end of the period in which the clause could be invoked, the governments demanded $92 million from Exxon based on the preliminary cost of implementing a plan to address lingering oil. But they never asked a judge to enforce the claim.

Ultimately, money from the original settlement was used for studies on lingering oil and measures to make it non-toxic, the state Department of Law said.

Wildlife monitoring showed the ducks and otters that appeared vulnerable to lingering oil in 2006 have recovered to pre-spill population levels, and officials concluded the legal requirements for pursuing a claim under the clause were no longer met, the department said in a news release.

The recovery of the otters and ducks, among other reasons, “has negated the claim that the patches of lingering oil in some Spill area beaches amount to a ‘substantial loss or substantial decline’ in a population, habitat, or species within the meaning of the Reopener,” the court filing stated.

More than $200 million in settlement funds remain that could be used to address lingering oil and other restoration work, the filing states.

John Cruden, an assistant attorney general with the U.S. Justice Department, said the reopener clause set a high bar for recovery of additional damages.

“Together with our partners in the Alaska Department of Law, we preserved a potential Reopener claim and investigated it to its logical end,” he said. “Our action today allows us to celebrate all that has been accomplished in Prince William Sound since the spill.”

More in News

Western blackheaded budworm out to lunch on Southeast Alaska Hemlock trees. Courtesy Photo / Forest Service Alaska Region.
The defoliator coming to a forest near you

Tongass National Forest visitors can help document western blackheaded budworms’ impact.

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of July 3

Here’s what to expect this week.

A Juneau Police Department community service officer vehicle cordons off a road as officers took a man wanted on a $50,000 warrant into custody. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Police arrest wanted man following armed standoff

A shot was fired by the suspect, but no one was injured.

Alaska State Troopers are helping to investigate a fatal fireworks-related accident that occurred in Gustavus early on July 5, 2022. (Juneau Empire File)
Troopers investigate fireworks-related death in Gustavus

The casualty occurred early Tuesday morning.

A very young oystercatcher chick waits for a parent.  (Courtesy Photo / Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Oystercatchers, pinesap and spittlebugs

At the mouth of Cowee Creek, sometime in mid-June, we’d found a… Continue reading

Mia Halloway (6) grabs a cotton candy with her dad in Savikko Park. A long string of kids stood in line to grab a cotton candy from the Twhrly Whrliy Cotton Candy stand on a bright and sunny Fourth of July afternoon. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Fun and sun mark holiday in Douglas

Hot dogs and panting pups present for festivities.

Rachel Hurst hands her son Benjamin, 4, a beach ball to throw to the crowd from the Hawaiian-themed Juneau Urgent Care float during the July 4 parade in downtown Juneau. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Juneau, the state of the union is festive

Melting pot of states, cultures and colors join in healthy unity for July 4 parade in unique times.

A Coast Guard aircrew and a Good Samaritan vessel rescued four mariners after their boat capsized in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, July 1, 2022. (Courtesy photo / USCG)
Good Samaritans rescue 4 after boat capsizes

The boat sank in Glacier Bay National Park.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Tuesday, July 5, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read