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On 25th anniversary of Exxon Valdez spill, group says oil still found on beaches

ABOVE: From our archives – reporting on the Exxon Valdez spill.

On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef, spilling about 40 million litres of crude oil into Prince William Sound.

It was the largest oil spill in U.S. history at the time.

The oil spread across 1,300 miles of shoreline, covering 4,000 square kilometres. Hundreds of thousands of birds and animals were affected by the environmental disaster.

Research shows that oil can still be found on the beaches, the herring stocks have still not recovered and local communities are still impacted by the disaster.

Opponents to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain projects are saying this is a sobering reminder of the dangers increased supertanker traffic carrying crude oil could bring to B.C.’s shores.

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Marine toxicologist and former commercial fisherman, Dr. Riki Ott, was one of the first people on the scene of the Exxon Valdez spill.

“In Alaska, we learned from the Exxon Valdez disaster that governments easily turn a blind eye to sicknesses and suffering from families and friends in communities that are oiled,” said Ott. “We must create an economy built on jobs that support real wealth – healthy people, thriving communities, and diverse cultures, not more oil at all costs.”

A report of a joint review panel recommended in December that the government approve the Northern Gateway Pipeline, subject to 209 conditions. B.C. Premier Christy Clark also issued five conditions Enbridge must meet to build the pipeline, with one of them being a “world-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.’s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and cost of heavy oil pipelines and shipments.”

Last year Clark if a spill was to happen off B.C.’s coast the federal government would not have a resources to handle the disaster, and that B.C. is “woefully under-resourced” to deal a major coastal oil spill.

“The B.C. government has clearly stated that effective clean-up is impossible under many conditions on our coast,” said Caitlyn Vernon, campaigns director with Sierra Club BC. “The heavy tar sands crude that Enbridge would be shipping is dirtier and more toxic than the oil still lingering on Alaska beaches. Why would we trade jobs in fishing for toxic jobs in oil spill response?”

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Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in North Vancouver said in his opinion, the risks are just too great. “Kinder Morgan wants to bring more than a tanker a day through the Salish Sea,” he said. “We see from our relations up north the devastating effects disasters like this have caused, and we will not let that happen here.”

A federal judge ordered Exxon to pay 6.75 billion dollars in punitive damages to thousands of fishermen and others. That was on top of the three billion Exxon had already spent on cleanup, settlements and other fees.

WATCH: From our archives – Response to the spill:

Dr. Riki Ott will be in Vancouver on Monday, March 31, to present her film: Pretty Slick at the Vancouver Public Library from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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