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Exxon Valdez Judge Refuses to Rule Against More Damage Claims

Exxon Mobil Corp. failed to persuade a federal judge to bar the U.S. and Alaskan governments from pursuing further damage claims related to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland in Anchorage yesterday refused Exxon’s request to enforce a 1991 agreement, under which the Irving, Texas-based company paid $900 million to settle claims over damage to the environment.

“Exxon presently suffers no particular harm,” Holland wrote in the order. “Its business is not in any fashion disrupted or impeded because of the uncertainty of a claim by the governments.”

The Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in 1989, dumping 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. Exxon agreed in 2009 to pay $470 million in interest on a $507.5 million judgment won by local victims of the spill, including fishermen and small businesses. That was in addition to the $900 million civil settlement.

The civil settlement contains a reopener clause that allows governments to pursue additional damages.

“The possibility of a reopener claim has been ‘on the table’ since the consent decree was finalized,” Holland wrote.

Oil from the spill is still trapped between layers of sand on the Alaskan shoreline, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience in 2010.

The case is United States of America v. Exxon Corp. 3:91-cv-0082, U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska (Anchorage).

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