"BP is taking very seriously its responsibility... All legitimate claims will be paid."
So said British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward two days ago in an interview in Washington, D.C.
Sound familiar? It should. Just over 20 years ago, Exxon's Don Cornett told fisherman R.J. Kopchak and others in Cordova, Alaska, "You are lucky. You have got Exxon. We take care of our problems."
We know how that worked out. Exxon's legal battalions spent the better part of a generation contesting punitive damages while 6,000 of the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit died off.
Alaskans like Kopchak know all too well what residents of the gulf states can expect if this spill turns into anything resembling the mess that was made of Prince William Sound in 1989.
"[Cordova] exhibited every kind of social stress you can imagine," Stan Jones, spokesman for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, told the Associated Press in a story published Tuesday. "Alcoholism went up. Suicide went up. Family violence went up. Divorces went up. Of course, bankruptcies and various kinds of financial failures went up with the attendant stress on families."
They're getting the picture in Bayou Caddy, Miss., where Mike Thornhill sat in the wheelhouse of his shrimper with a bottle of Jim Beam and told a reporter from Alaska Dispatch, "I'm about to lose my mind here," he said. "I'm drinking it away tonight... We are living hell."
On Sunday, NOAA closed thousands of square miles of the Gulf of Mexico to commercial and recreational fishing for a minimum of 10 days because of the spill.
Thornhill's season is scheduled to open in three weeks.
"The oil industry," Kopchak wrote in National Fisherman two years ago, following the final Exxon Valdez verdict, "will not make you whole.
"The only hope," he said, "is in prevention."
Thank you for your time.
Editor & Publisher, National Fisherman