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Encore: Exxon Valdez | Oil Meets Water | 1

Encore: Exxon Valdez | Oil Meets Water | 1

Tue, 12 May 2020 09:00

A supertanker carrying 53 million gallons of crude oil runs aground in Prince William Sound sparking the worst man-made ecological catastrophe in the country’s history at the time. As Exxon struggles to get the cleanup underway, fishermen worry that this is the end of life as they know it

Links to recommended reading:

Not One Drop by Riki Ott

Out of the Channel by John Keeble

The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster

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It's March 23rd, 1989. Just past nightfall, and Frederica Ricci Aught is barreling down a mountain through the dark in a toboggan. Ricci lives alone on a mountain, three miles outside the tiny fishing village of Cordoba, Alaska. She's miles from the nearest plowed road, so getting anywhere means hopping on that old sled and letting it rip. The sled sends a shudder through her body as it skids over the hard packs no dodging towards spruces and boulders. She smells the sap of the trees as she flies past. The cold air stings her face. God she loves this place. The lights of Cordoba come into view in the distance, and Ricci's heart swells with excitement. It's not just the thrill of the ride, it's where she's headed and what she's about to do. Ricci's addressing a government committee about her favorite subject, oil safety. Specifically, how to protect her beloved Alaska from the billions of gallons of oil being piped through its forest and shipped across its waters. Ricci parks her sled at the bottom of the mountain. Then she hops on a bike and rides through town making her way to a cramped conference room above the local fisherman's Union Hall. Without a typical venue for a major speech, Ricci's audience is actually 70 miles away in Valdez and Ricci's here in Cordoba. There are no roads out of Cordoba, getting to Valdez or just about anywhere means hours on a boat over seven foot winter swells or in a bush plane over the mountains. Skype and video conferencing are still a decade away, so Ricci's going to be addressing a speakerphone tonight in an empty room. Hello, are you there Ricci? Hello? Ricci out here, Mayor. Can you hear me? Loud and clear. A miracle modern technology, right? Actually, technology is what Ricci is here to talk about. Specifically, the technology that allowed men to find oil buried deep beneath the frozen tundra of Alaska's north slope, 30 years ago. Technology that allowed them to pump it through an 800 mile long pipeline to the port of Valdez, a stone throw from where her audience is sitting right now on the other end of the line. The committee listens as she shares her concerns about the super tankers that oil gets loaded onto. Super tankers that carry it right over her fishing grounds, the waters she and thousands of other fishermen rely on for their livelihoods. One may dracks in it, and those waters could be spoiled for years. Oil and water don't mix. She closes her eyes a bit, she speaks, trying to imagine the people listening on the other end, trying to forget the tiny room she's in. She doesn't need to see her notes, just speech she's given many times before, and it's about the life she lives every day. Given the number of tankers in and out of port Valdez, we fishermen feel that we're playing a game of Russian roulette. Man's voice breaks in. Hi, Ricky, um, do you really feel it's possible for one of these tankers to run a ground here? Absolutely, Ricky says. The big one is coming. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. That very same evening, a thousand foot long super tanker called the Exxon Valdez, eases from it slip at the Alaska Pipeline Terminal, less than two miles from Ricky's audience. The Valdez is the newest, most sophisticated ship in Exxon's fleet. Its captain is an expert, with over a hundred Alaskan runs under his belt. The cargo, 53 million gallons of Alaskan crude, is secure. The weather is clear. Calm seas, good visibility. A perfect start for a five day trip to Long Beach, California. The ship will never make it there. For all the money, time and expertise put into a feat of engineering life, the Exxon Valdez, no one ever accounted for a lone underwater spire of rock, jutting up, just below the surface, 25 miles ahead. Thousands of years old, waiting, invisible in the dark Alaskan night. Tomorrow America will wake up to the worst manmade ecological catastrophe in the country's history. The Ricky Ott's fishing village, Fordova, Alaska, will soon become the epicenter of a decade's long fight for survival, hitting local fishermen against one of the largest companies in the world. This is the story of the Exxon Valdez. Hey there listeners, shop Etsy for affordable one of a kind things made by real people. Etsy has home decor, kids toys, clothing and jewelry, and so much more at a great price. Buying affordable things from independent makers and sellers means that you know the stories behind the things you shop for, and the people who make the products with care and attention and sell them at great prices. Because special doesn't have to mean expensive. On Etsy, you'll find something that hits the right note at every price point. New to Etsy? Use code Hello10 at checkout for 10% off your first purchase. That's code Hello10. Maximum value of $50 and October 31st, 2022. 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You fill up your car, hop on an airplane, catch the bus to work. To do just about anything these days you need oil. It takes about 850 million gallons a day to keep America running. Yet few realize that a quarter of that oil comes from the transalaskin oil pipeline. Every day millions of gallons of thick black Alaskan crude cross prince William sound, one of the richest most pristine ecosystems left on earth where native communities have lived for thousands of years and thousands of fishermen make their living now before the oil makes its way to the cars and trucks and homes of the lower 48. Over the next four episodes we're going to explore the true price of a gallon of gas when something goes wrong. The hidden cost, the human cost. That gallon of gas it turns out can cost a lot more than you think. This is episode 1, Oil Needs Water. Among the grizzled captains and old timers who navigate the treacherous waters of Prince William's sound, there are two pieces of well worn knowledge that have been passed down for generations. The most dangerous sea is a calm sea and the most dangerous wind is no wind at all. You're out there, all alone. With no weather, no obstacles, boredom sets in, complacency, laziness, the mind wanders and loses focus. Captain Joseph Hazelwood knows this better than anyone. Hazelwood's a real salty dog, broad shouldered, imposing, his round face covered with a rough gray stubble. He was the youngest man ever to make Captain in the Exxon fleet at age 32. He's 42 now and in that decade at the helm he's developed a reputation as an exceptional skipper, adept at navigating his ships through dangerous situations. On March 23rd, 1989, conditions are ideal on Prince William's sound. Wind is low and visibility is good. Captain Hazelwood stands in the wheelhouse of the Exxon Valdez looking out over his ship. The worst of the journey is already behind him. They've made it through the Valdez arm, the narrow channel that connects the Transalaska pipeline terminal to Prince William's sound. Now they're in the heart of the sound, the vast expanse of water bound in by hundreds of craggy islands stretching like the scarred fingers of a fisherman's hand towards the Gulf of Alaska. Pass those islands, open sea, smooth sailing. Hazelwood stubs out his mall bro and lights another. Healthy living is in his strong suit. Next to him stands third mate Gregory Cousins. Cousins is always a little uncomfortable standing this close to the Captain. Hazelwood's mere presence intimidates. He has a withering gaze and a cutting wit. Hazelwood's the kind of man who makes you want him to like you. Cousins really wants to be liked. He's not supposed to be on the bridge right now. This isn't even his shift. He's staying on to another mate and catch up on sleep. The process of loading the ship and getting out to port is a grueling 24 hour sprint. The Valdez has only 19 crew members. All of them going flat out to load 53 million gallons of oil into seven story high tanks. 19 crew members to Manavessel 3 football fields long. So all hands on deck as they say. Now, close to midnight Cousins is running on fumes. By all accounts Gregory Cousins is an exemplary third mate. He's climbing that ladder to Captain. The only knock on his performance reviews is he's sometimes slow to report challenges and problems to his superiors. He's too eager to please. At 11.54pm Hazelwood turns to Cousins. When we pull even with Buzz B Island, I want a tended return to the right. I'm going to go down to my quarters and deal with some paperwork. You think you can handle a turn? Yes, sir. Hazelwood senses hesitation. Do you feel comfortable making that turn? Yes, Captain. No problem, Captain. Hazelwood disappears below deck leaving Cousins alone on the bridge. The truth is Cousins has never piloted a ship in these waters before. He's not even licensed to navigate Prince William's sound. But it's just one 10 degree turn. Look out, pokes her head into the wheelhouse. You've got a red on your right. Cousins has got blireef on the wrong side of the ship. Should be on the left. Thank you. No problem. 10 degrees right. Once you're right. Cousins breathes a sigh of relief. Done. Home free. He turns his back to the wheel and then calls down to the captain's state room. Captain, I have ordered the turn. Good. Good. How's she looking? I think we're going to catch a bit of ice up ahead. Does it look to be a problem? No. No problem at all. Good work. I'll be up in a minute. Cousins hangs up the phone and turns back to the wheel. The reading should be at 10 degrees by now. But it hasn't changed. It's unclear why, but the ship is still chugging dead ahead towards the reef. The look at person for the wheelhouse. Red on your right. Cousins stays calm. The captain's state room is only paces away. One phone call and he'll be back on the bridge in 15 seconds. But Cousins doesn't need the captain. He's got this. He orders a harder turn. 20 degrees right. 2,0 right. But it's not going to be enough. The ship weighs a quarter of a million tons. It can take minutes to respond to the turning of the wheel. Cousins cool veneer starts to crack. Hard right, hard right. But the ship's heading still isn't changing. Frantically Cousins double checks his charts, then finally grabs the phone. Captain, go ahead. Captain, I think we're in serious trouble. 15 minutes before the crash. Bruce Blanford is arriving for the graveyard shift at the Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service in Valdez. Blanford is a radar operator at the station that monitors tanker traffic through Prince William Sound. The building is practically empty. It's looking like another quiet night on the job. Only one ship out there tonight, the Exxon Valdez. Blanford checks into the radar room with cramped space, barely large enough to hold the jumble of maps and computer monitors use attract ships in the sound. The operator currently on duty starts packing his things up. As he leaves, he tells Bruce that he's having a little trouble holding onto the Valdez's signal tonight. Blanford shrugs, businesses usual. At least ever since the Coast Guard downgraded to a cheaper radar system, they also got rid of half of the Vessel tracking staff, so tonight is just Bruce and the guys at the weather service down the hall. Blanford heads to the kitchen, grabs some coffee and makes a sandwich. When he gets back, he checks the radar. And there's the Exxon Valdez, alone in the sound, her radar signal bright, strong, clears day. Except, she isn't moving, and she's sitting right on top of Blyreaf. The time is 12.26 am, and the Valdez has been aground for 20 minutes. Bruce's radio chirps to life. It's Captain Joseph Hazelwood. The Captain hesitates, unsure of how to describe the situation. We should be on your radar there. We've fetched up a hard ground north of Goose Island off Blyreaf and evidently we are leaking some oil. Leaking some oil isn't just the understatement of the year. It may well be the single greatest understatement in the history of maritime transport. Bruce calls his supervisor, Coast Guard Commander Steve McCall, waking him from a dead sleep. Bruce cuts to the chase. The Valdez has run aground, sir. We've had the big one. By 12.35 am, 30 minutes after impact, 100,000 gallons of oil have poured into the clear blue water. And in those 30 minutes, the Valdez has become the worst spill in the Laskin history. But it's about to get much, much worse. Back on the deck of the Valdez, floodlights are bursting to life, one by one, their cool blue hue pushing back against the dark Alaska night. Captain Joseph Hazelwood looks down over his ship. The jewel of the Exxon fleet, his mouth agape, Marlboro dangling from his lips. Oil spews in geysers from ruptured tanks, staining seven stories high and roars to the surface around the disemboweled ship. The air is already thick with blue vapor and eye searing nostril sinching fumes. With every minute, the tragedy gets worse. But there's nothing Hazelwood in his crew can do except watch and wait for help to arrive. At 301 am, almost three hours later, the first Coast Guard vessel approaches the Valdez. Standing at its prow is Chief Warnt Officer Mark Delozier. Here is a Coast Guard Marine investigator with a rough human face and piercing eyes. As his ship nears the Exxon Valdez, he notices something strange. He no longer hears the sound of waves slapping against the side of his boat. The water has gone eerily silent and in its place is the creepy quiet slither of oil, bubbling up all around him. By this point, over four million gallons of oil have dumped into the pristine emerald water of the sound. Delozier boards the Valdez and goes in search of Captain Hazelwood. He finds him standing alone on the bridge, puffing on another marlboro. Joseph Hazelwood is surrounded by millions of gallons of highly combustible oil and he's smoking a cigarette. Delozier suggests that Captain might want to put it out. Sidelately Hazelwood abays. In strange, the captain is covering his mouth like he's trying to hide something. Delozier looks him over and asks him what the problem is. Hazelwood meets Delozier's gaze. You're looking at it. Joseph Hazelwood is being facetious. He doesn't suffer fools gladly. To him the problem is obvious the Valdez has run aground. But what Delozier hears Hazelwood say is, I, Captain Hazelwood, and the problem. Even through the searing fumes of the oil, Delozier smells booze on Hazelwood's breath. A lot of it. Back on deck, Delozier radios back to headquarters to get the state police out to the Valdez. He wants everyone on the ship tested for drugs and alcohol. This is serious trouble. Delozier looks out into the night. Pass the crew members scurrying in their survival gear under the flood lights. Pass the bubbling slick of oil that now stretches 300 yards past the ship. What he's looking at is nothing. It's a peaceful quiet night on the sound. That bothers Mark Delozier. It's been three hours now. Shouldn't more help be on the way? Spill response teams? Emergency containment? He scans the horizon towards Valdez arm. The narrow channel that leads back to port Valdez and the oil pipeline terminal. And nothing is on the water. No vessels on route. Just the end rolled streaks of the northern lights in the sky. And the chewgash mountains rising black and silent from the waters of Prince William's sound. And Delozier asks a question that would be repeated by fishermen, politicians, lawyers, television viewers around the world in the weeks to come. Where is everybody? What if your family was the victim of a home invasion? Or you woke up in the morgue? Or you were seriously injured? Miles from help. What would you do? This is actually happening. Six are listeners this very question, while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives, even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening is available ad free only with Wondry Plus. And if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together, and we'd love for you to join us. Generation Y is one of the longest running true crime podcasts out there, and we are still at it, unraveling a new case every week. We break down infamous cases like the Evil Genius Bank robbery, and lesser known cases like the case of Kimberly Rico. Did she actually kill her husband after they took part in a murder mystery game? We cover every angle, breaking down theories, diving deep into forensic evidence, and interviewing those close to the case, and with over 450 episodes, there's a little something for every true crime listener. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or every listen to podcasts, or you can listen ad free by joining Wondry Plus in the Wondry app. Check in the town of Valdez, Chuck O'Donnell is sound asleep when a phone call jars him awake. Chuck is the superintendent of the Alliaska Pipeline Service Company, a consortium created by BP, Exxon, and several other big oil companies to maintain their pipeline in Alaska. Chuck's job is to oversee the response to all oil spills in Prince William Sound. That response is codified in excruciating detail in the state approved 1977 contingency plan, the CP has most of theaskins call it. The CP runs almost 1,000 pages, offering a minute by minute item by item plan to provide the world's most sophisticated, effective response to an oil spill in the Alaska waters. Step 1 is to notify the superintendent of Alliaska, notify Chuck. But Chuck is exhausted. He only got to sleep 15 minutes before he picked up the phone. He was out late last night at Alliaska's big oil safety banquet, a party to commemorate the 1 billionth barrel of oil to pass safely through the Transylaska Pipeline. The banquet was held just across from the port where Captain Hizzlewood was weighing anchor and sounding the ship's horn for departure, in a half mile from where Ricky Ott was predicting imminent disaster via speakerphone. But the Alliaska employees at the party weren't thinking about disaster. They were celebrating a job well done, dancing, drinking, a bit too much perhaps. Chuck passes word of a possible oil leak onto his deputy, Larry Sheer, then Chuck rolls over and goes back to sleep. With that, the vaunted Alliaska contingency plan, the CP is set in motion, now with a bang, but with a whimper. The CP dictates that Alliaska call in its crack emergency cleanup crew, a team of eight highly trained oil spill experts on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, who were to be outfitted with perfectly maintained state of the art equipment. But deputy superintendent Larry Sheer doesn't call that crew, because that crew was let go during budget cutbacks seven years ago. Instead, Larry calls in the members of Alliaska's replacement crew. I had a little after 4am on March 24th, the replacement show up at the gates of the Alliaska pipeline terminal, Groggie, and Dishevil. They are guys who make their living loading and unloading oil tankers at the dock. They may not be highly trained, but they have received special training for this type of scenario. Sort of. Every so often, they've head out into Valdez Harbor in a special craft, designed to skim oil off the surface of the water, called skimmer boats, where they would collect oranges bobbing in the water. It turns out an orange and a glob of oil have roughly the same buoyancy, but even corralling oranges in the water didn't always go so well. During one drill, the team managed to run a skimmer boat aground, with several of Alliaska's top executives on board as observers. But mostly, the cleanup crew would just sit around, eating their oranges. Now, they are tasked with dealing with a real oil spill, and not just a tanker that sprung a little leak, almost 6 million gallons of oil are already in the water around bly reef. They receive the wake up call 3 and half hours after the crash. The CP calls for the team to be at the spill site within 5 hours, and it'll take at least 2 and a half hours for their emergency barge, and all their equipment to reach the ship. If they're lucky, they'll arrive at the site only 1 hour late. But when they show up at the barge that will take them to the Valdez, it's empty. All of their equipment is missing. Their booms, floating fences that corral oil and prevent it from spreading, are gone. Their skimmers are gone too. After a quick search, they find it all buried under the 7 feet of snow that has fallen since the equipment was offloaded 2 months ago. The booms have holes that need to be patched. Anchors need to be attached to them so they'll work properly, and then everything needs to be loaded onto the barge. By 6am, Aliaska has called in 50 extra employees to help dig out the equipment, but there's another problem. Only one of the 50 can operate a forklift to move the equipment, and it gets worse. That same man is the only person who can operate the crane that will take the equipment from the forklift and load it onto the barge. 50 emergency workers and the 8 man spill response team watch has had lone forklift operators slowly drive the load from the warehouse onto the dock, then clients out of the forklift climbs up into the crane and loads it onto the boat. Then repeats, over and over and over again. It's like a comedic farce, but no one's laughing. While Aliaska struggles to get the emergency response team into the water, another 3 million gallons of exonzoil leak into Prince William's sound 25 miles away. At 8am on Friday, March 24, almost 8 hours after the spill, Ricky ought to hurry along the docks of Cordova Harbor. Outwardly it appears to be a day like any other. The air has crisp and cold and the sky is clear. Autors play in the water. Rikki's fight over scraps left over from yesterday's catch. But this morning, as she passes the same familiar side she's seen every morning for years, Ricky knows none of this will ever be the same again. Ricky was startled awake less than an hour ago by someone pounding on the door of her cabin high above town. Fisherman Jack Lamb, out of breath from the 3 mile climb told her the news, the big one has happened. Now she's struggling to keep up with Jack as he barrels across the docks towards the Cordova Fisherman's Union Hall. He doesn't speak. His face is twisted into a grimace, his fists are a clenched tight. Rikki's never seen Jack like this before. A life of hard work and hard weather has made Jack Lamb tough. He almost drowned as a boy, but became a fisherman anyway. As a teen, a shooting accident put a bullet in his right leg and it took him 36 hours to get to the nearest hospital. By then, blood poisoning had already set in. He lost the leg from the knee down. Now he skippers his own 66 foot boat, the poncho. He's well known in town for freaking out rookie captains by swinging his prosthetic leg over the side of the ship and using it as a fender as he pulls up to dock. There's not much that scares Jack Lamb, but today he's terrified. Jack is a leader here. He's the president of the Cordova Fisherman's Union and he feels responsible for the people of this town like they are his family and if half of what he's hearing about this spill is true, their entire way of life is in grave danger. People are just waking up to the news that there's been a spill. They don't know how big or what happened, but they're scared and full of questions. Rikki wants to get them answers. At the Union office, the phones are ringing off the hook. Jack's wife won off its cradle. Jack here, Bill. Bill, slow down. We don't know what happened. Not exactly. I'm here with Rikki now. We'll let everyone know what's going on as soon as we can, alright? Okay. Jack, I'm gonna see if I can't get a bush pilot to take me up to look at this spill, alright? There's gonna be a lot of room or a lot of speculation. We need to know what's actually happening. Yeah, that's a good idea. I'll track down Steiner. If anyone knows what's up, it's him. Rikki hurries to the door. I'll call in as soon as we land. The door slams behind her, but then it opens again. She pokes her head back in. Steiner's right outside. Rik Steiner, a fisherman. Six foot four. Ducks a bit as he comes in through the door of the Union office. Anything new, Jack? I've just on my way to ask you the same thing. Steiner shakes his head. I'm hearing there's nobody out there. Nobody clean up. Jack leaves through the office copy of the Alliaska contingency plan. It says here that Alliaska can contain any spill within 50 miles in 12 hours. The Exxon Valdezes only half that far. I'm sure they're on it. They've got to be. Steiner sounds like a man trying to convince himself. If nobody cleans this up, man, we're done for. Ah, there are 10 million herring on their way into the sound right now. They're gonna be spawning, so yeah. And Sam and her about to run to. There are 100 million salmon fry hatching, at least, in the birds migrating soon. Steiner says what they are both thinking. This is the absolute worst possible time of the year for a spill. When Rik Steiner looks out over the harbor that morning, he sees rows upon rows of fishing boats, bobbing gently in the freezing water. A mortgage on each one. Expensive equipment, expensive permits. Every fisherman on the sound has to scrape and save just to put together enough for a down payment on what they have. And most will still owe the bank for decades. Just a couple of weeks ago, Rik himself took all the money he had down to the last dime and pulled it with the savings of a group of fishermen to buy a new permit and a new boat. $300,000 total, most of it mortgageed. It seemed worth the investment. 1989 was supposed to be a record fishing season the best ever. But a spill like this could wipe out the entire salmon harvest, not to mention the herring. No income, no money for food, nothing for the bank. Suddenly, the months ahead flashed through Rik's mind, yawning wide open and empty. He feels a sickening knot rise up in his chest. He keeps telling himself they'll clean this up. There's still time. We're talking about Exxon here. Aliasca, these guys have all the money and equipment in the world. It'll all work out. By 9 a.m., 9 hours since the Exxon Valdeus crashed into the reef, Rikkiot has made it out to the spill site by air. She looks down at the tankers from a bush pilots turbo prop and gasps. It's worse than anyone could possibly imagine. The ship sits in the icy water like a rust red wound, bleeding black blood, a horrible blot of oil spreading out like a tentacle monster. The icebergs around it are stained black, sea lions thrash inside the slick, trying to pull themselves up onto buoys to get out of the oil. A few lumps float on the smooth surface of the oil, sea otters, dead, the first group of many, and no signs of any cleanup activity in sight, just the Valdeus and the sick black mess spreading around it. The air above the tanker itself is blue with oil vapors, a cloud of carcinogen so thick that pain shoots up Rikki's spine into her head, followed by an overwhelming wave of nausea. The plane engines begin to spotter in the dense fumes as the pilot banks hard to turn around in search of clean air. Tear streamed down Rikki's face as she watches the impaled tanker shrink into the distance again. Where is everybody? Why isn't anyone down there? Where are the skimmers? Where are the booms? Why isn't anyone helping? Rikki's plane lands to refuel at the Valdeus airport, a single runway air strip that rarely sees more than six or seven flights a day. Now, it's buzzing with new arrivals. Rikki wonders who are all these people. She makes her way through the crowd to the terminal's only bank of payphones and calls Jack Lam back at the Union office in Cordova. It's bad, Jack, it's real bad. There's no one out there. She says there's no one out there. Well, see you see. Jack wants the wind gives that oil it's going to be everywhere, everywhere, all over our fishing grounds. Oh, God. And it's not just this season, Jack. It'll be for years, years and years. What are we going to do? There's silence on the other line. There are no words for the bleak future that lies ahead. Jack, okay. We're fueling up to come back to Cordova. I'll be there about half an hour, okay? Well, Rikki, let's hold off on that for a sec. Exxon's having their first press conference later today in Valdeus. Five miles from where you are now. If you could stay there, be our eyes and ears. We'll all be listening on the right here at the Union Hall, but you'll be great to have someone in the room. Rikki hesitates. I don't know, Jack. I mean, it's bad out there. I don't know what I can do. It's just going to get worse. I feel like I need to come back and help somehow. Rikki, listen. We're fishermen, and that's it. But you, you're different. Nobody knows the stuff better than you do. We need you, Rikki. We need your help. Rikki hangs up the phone, dazed and unsure. Rikki is different from many of her fellow fishermen. She had a career before she came to Cordova. A career she could go back to. She wanders back outside. Takes deep breath. She watches the planes landing, taking off. Helicopters buzzing overhead. She could sell her permit. She could sell her boat. She could cut her losses right now. Get on one of those planes and go back to her old life in the lower 48, where she was known as Dr. Fred Rika Ott, PhD, scientist. But then she thinks about her life here in the wild. The thrill of untangling, thrashing silver salmon from a freezing cold net. The summer nights out on the sound, listening to the loons from the deck of her boat, the amber grease, and the camaraderie, the community of fishermen, the intense bond that forms between peers on treacherous waters, between people counting on you to come to their aid, to save their lives, and counting on them to save yours. Jack Lamb is right. She has the expertise to make a difference here. Her PhD is in marine pollution. Her master's degree is in oil pollution. Every choice, every decision she's ever made has brought her to this moment. For thousands of miles from where she was born to Alaska, and just a few miles from the epicenter of one of the worst ecological disasters in US history. So when a reporter approaches her on the tarmac, no book in hand, asking if she can help him understand what's really going on out there, she doesn't hesitate. Yes, I'm Dr. Ott, she says, and I can help. At 6 p.m., Ricky sits in a drab ballroom at the Valdez Civic Center. Exxon's first post bill press conference is about to begin. Reporters are squished into rows of banquet chairs, facing a folding table packed with microphones at the front of the room. Today is Good Friday, an organ music wasp in from the service taking place in the ballroom next door. Ricky surveys a crowd from her seat in the last row. Very few locals. She's frustrated. If they'd held this event in Cordova, the place will be packed with fishermen ready to give these oil in what for. Ricky watches as a parade of men and suits and starch shirts take their seats at the table. Men she's never seen before. Except for one. Exxon's in house scientist, Dr. Alan Mackie. He has thick, square in glasses and a perfectly trimmed beard on a pale round face. His aw shucks persona borders on sanctimonious, as if he were daring people not to trust him. Ricky ought to trust him about as far as she can throw him. From his seat at the table, Dr. Mackie leans into his microphone. Dispersons. That's the answer. Dispersons are the cure for what is happening on Prince William's town. You spray them onto the oil from plain flying low and they literally make the oil disappear. Ricky's mouth drops open. Is he serious? She knows a lot about dispersons. Sure, they'll make the oil disappear on the surface. Exxon's cause the oil to break into tiny droplets and sink out of sight, where it will poison the marine life below. Dispersons are manufactured by the oil companies themselves. And Ricky is pretty sure that Exxon will want to use its own proprietary blend, Corexit, which is molecularly similar to Kerosene. Exxon's solution to clean up the spill to resurrect the sound is to douse it with Kerosene. But the assembled reports are dutifully recording Mackie's every word, like it's gospel, under the strains of organ music coming from next door. Your mind's Ricky of the last scene of the godfather, the one where everyone is killed. Ricky steals her nerves. It's time to stand up for her town, for the waters they all fish, and for their way of life. She shouts out from the back of the room. Dr. Mackie, my name is Ricky Ott. I have a master's and a doctorate in marine collusion. I am a fisherman from Cordova. Head's turn, chairs Creek as journalists crane their nexusie who is interrupting the press conference. Dr. Mackie, you and I were both at the International Oil School Conference in Texas last month, where the use of dispersons was widely debated by experts. Dispersons are toxic to fish. Fishermen are concerned they'll harm the herring that is spawning in the water right now. Back in Cordova, a cheerer rubs at the Union Hall, where a crowd has gathered to listen on a transistor radio. And when the press conference ends, a throng of reporters crowd around Ricky for interviews. The stories they file later that night will focus on the danger dispersons posed to Prince William Sound. They will quote Dr. Ott. Ricky has ambushed Exxon in front of the National Press. But she knows this is only the beginning of the fight. Exxon is the largest energy company in America. They have tens of thousands of employees, armies of lawyers, lobbyists, PR spin doctors, and billions of dollars to spend. Ricky knows they will bring all of those resources to bear on this tiny corner of Alaska, to make sure that what happened last night doesn't affect the company's bottom line. And they won't let some small town fishermen get in their way. Battle of Alaska has begun. On Wondering, this is Episode 1 of 5 of Exxon Valdes for American Scandal. On the next episode, Exxon scrambles to put 11 million gallon genie back into the bottle. And Ricky Ott finds out that the glare of the American media spotlight makes it hard to tell friend from phone. If you'd like to learn more about the Exxon Valdes, we recommend the book Not One Drop by Ricky Ott. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details. And while in most cases we can't know exactly what was said, all of our dramatizations are based on historical research. American Scandal is hosted, edited, sound designed, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Granford Airship, additional production assistance by Derek Barrett's. This episode is written by Benjamin Gray, edited by Andrew Stelser. American producers are Stephanie Jenns, Marshal Louis, and her nonloaf has for Wondering.