The Alaskan government, along with the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), will no longer pursue an additional $92 million payment from ExxonMobil tied to the 1989 Valdez spill, citing improvements in marine life populations.
According to Alaska’s KTUU 2, state and federal officials dropped judicial actions against ExxonMobil on Wednesday because sea otter and harlequin duck populations have returned to levels seen before the accident.
The 11 million gallon spill occurred on March 24, 1989 after the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground while transporting just over 53 million gallons of oil through Prince William Sound.
Exxon was fined $150 million for the spill in 1991, the largest fine ever imposed for an environmental crime at the time, and also spent $2.1 billion on cleanup.
The court forgave $125 million of that fine, citing Exxon’s cooperation in cleaning up the spill and its payment of certain private claims, according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.
The oil giant also reached a $900 million civil settlement with Alaska and the DOJ that year with a clause that allowed the state to seek up to an additional $100 million in damages during a specified reopener window.
In 2006, the DOJ and the State of Alaska Department of Law announced that they would seek an additional $92 million under the reopener clause to pay for the cleanup of lingering oil.
In an email to lawmakers obtained by KTUU 2, Alaska’s assistant attorney general Kaci Schroeder said the threat of lingering oil has diminished during the last nine years, eliminating the need for further payments.
“In 2006, the governments put forward a plan to bio-remediate subsurface lingering oil thought to have been impeding the recovery of the ducks and otters that forage in the intertidal zone. Over time the exposure to subsurface oil has diminished to the point that scientists believe it is no longer of biological significance to the ducks and otters,” Schroeder wrote.
ExxonMobil has not commented on the decision.