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Exxon Valdez Survivor, Marine Toxicologist Dr. Ricki Ott’s Message to British Columbians on Enbridge, Tankers

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Posted August 9, 2012 by Damien Gillis in Energy and Resources
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Read this story from Watershed Sentinel on oil spill expert Dr. Ricki Ott’s recent speech in Courtenay, BC, on Enbridge, the impact of oil spills on people and the environment, and how British Columbians can rise up to defend their province from these calamities. (August 2012)

On a hot Friday evening in August, a packed audience at the Native Sons Hall in Courtenay BC listened spell bound and sometimes close to tears to marine toxicologist Dr. Riki Ott. In an event sponsored by World Community, Ott was describing the long term impacts to fish, mammals, and humans from the Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Gulf, and Kalamazoo River oil spills.

Ott, who was a commercial fisher in Cordova Alaska as well as a trained scientist, was in a unique position when Prince William Sound was hit by the Exxon Valdez oil spill 23 years ago. She described how the response to the spill was nothing like what had been promised by the oil companies before the port was opened.

She talked about how any spill response actually collects, at the most, 15% of the spilled oil, which continues to cycle through the ecosystem with every tide. “They said it was cleaned up,” she said, “but two years later the pink salmon run failed, and four years later the herring disappeared. The herring fishery is now closed indefinitely.” Herring eggs fail when exposed to oil at one part per trillion.

The most poignant – and pungent – witness to the impossibility of “clean up” were two small jars Ott circulated through the hall. They were filled with sand and beach stones from a beach that had been considered “cleaned up” for two decades. The jars stank of oil, and the woman next to me, who touched the stones, scrambled for a tissue to clean her fingers.”We can respond to an oil spill,” declared Dr. Ott, “We can never clean it up.”

Worst of all, Ott said, was the impact on the community, which was in chaos, as debt and despair ate at family and social life. The small fishing community of Cordova had to pull together and revision its values. It has managed to resuscitate itself, with the help of local economic development such as niche marketing of a salmon run from the Copper River, which was not impacted by the spill…

…In all this, insisted Ott, over and over again, whether 23 years ago or two, the communities find themselves alone, with ruined environments, ruined industries, and lingering but unrecognised personal health impacts. Citizens, she said, are the victims of ‘lies and betrayal,” being sacrificed for the economy. Her response, especially to the issue of the proposed dilbit pipelines facing BC, is that crisis provides the opportunity to reorganize, decide what wealth means in your community, and develop democratically-driven local economies, such as those championed by the Transition Town movement. “Protect your local wealth with local laws,” and work for real democracy. “We can believe in it. We can work for it. It’s not a goal, it’s a journey.”

Riki Ott told the Watershed Sentinel that the recent upsurge in organizing activity through the Occupy movement is a massive opportunity for movement building, with three and four generations of people coming together for social change. When asked, she suggested that the role of the experienced grassroots of the environmental movement now is to help these “new recruits”: “Empower these folks,” sharing skills and historical knowledge.

Read full story: http://www.watershedsentinel.ca/content/oil-spill-specialist-dr-riki-ott-message-warning-and-hope

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About the Author

Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

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