Having read quite a few books focusing on various disasters in this nation during the past century it certainly comes as no surprise to me that nearly two decades after the calamity in Prince William Sound the people of Cordova, Alaska have yet to be made whole. In my reading, I consistently found that the investigation of these events is more often than not perverted by corporate collusion, broken promises, curious judicial rulings and paid off politicians. It seems that the rich and powerful will resort to any means at their disposal to avoid taking responsibility for their greed, negligence and stupidity. "Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill" is the gut-wrenching story of lost livelihoods, broken families, shattered dreams and a spoiled environment. Author Riki Ott visited Cordova just a few short years before the spill, fell in love with the place and decided to make this town her permanent home. Riki had a PhD in marine biology and was a commercial fisherman to boot. As such, she is someone uniquely qualified to tell the sorry story of the Exxon Valdez tragedy. She knew the right questions to ask and was painfully aware of the likely consequences of the massive oil spill. What has happened to the people of Cordova and the surrounding area will more than likely anger and sadden you.
Oddly enough, as the Exxon Valdez set sail with a full load of crude on the evening of March 23, 1989, Riki Ott was addressing a group of Valdez residents on what would happen should a major spill ever occur. As a matter of fact, Riki put it this way to her audience "Gentlemen, it's not if, it's when." It was not more than an hour or two later that the environmental nightmare that would forever change Prince William Sound would begin. The evidence clearly indicates that Captain Joseph Hazelwood was legally intoxicated when the Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef tearing a huge hole in the hull. Official estimates were that more than 11,000,000 gallons of crude leaked into the Sound that night though Riki Ott has reason to believe that the actual amount was closer to 38,000,000 gallons. Response to the disaster from the oil companies was painfully slow and inadequate further exacerbating an already monumental problem. Many of the tools that had been promised by the oil companies to help fight such spills were not available, the victim of reckless and ill-advised cost saving measures by these companies. And it goes without saying that had the Exxon Valdez been a double-hulled tanker the scope of this disaster would have been reduced considerably. The damage done to the environment and to all manner of wildlife was incalculable. Riki Ott saw it all firsthand. Her accounts of the response to this tragedy and the effects on her community are riveting.
In the immediate aftermath, Exxon promised the people of Cordova that they would be made whole. They lied. No one in Cordova could possibly have been prepared for the epic battle for justice that would occur over the next 20 years. Riki Ott was on the scene every step of the way and reports on the tactics employed by the oil companies, state and federal government, the courts and of course the victims. It quickly becomes apparent whose side most of our esteemed government officials are on. Riki Ott also spends a considerable amount of time driving home the point that the oil spill science funded by the oil companies is largely junk science and is not to be trusted. Perhaps one of the most salient points made in "Not One Drop" is that evidence amassed by trauma experts clearly indicates that disasters caused by so-called "acts of God" such as earthquakes, floods and tornadoes affect people much differently in the long run than such man-made disasters as dam failures, oil spills and nuclear accidents. My reading over the years would tend to confirm this. As Riki points out "natural disasters brought people together in crisis, while man-made disasters tore communities apart." Now nearly two decades later the people of Cordova struggle mightily to put their lives and their community back together again.
In my view "Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage In The Wake of the Exxon Valdez Spill" is an exceptionally well written and extremely important book. The author has been an eyewitness to all of these events over the years and as such brings a totally unique perspective in reporting on these enduring issues. The litigation goes on. Sadly, nearly 20 years later more than 6000 of the original litigants in the Exxon Valdez case have passed on. Contrary to what Exxon will tell you Prince William Sound still has not recovered. The herring have never returned. Events have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that procrastination and endless legal maneuvering by Exxon did pay off for them. I guess it was ever thus. If you ever wondered about the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill then "Not One Drop" is the book you want to read. And where did Riki Ott come up with the title for her book? Alaska Senator Ted Stevens once promised the concerned citizens of Cordova that "Not One Drop" of oil would ever pollute Prince William Sound. Nuff said? Very highly recommended!