After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, oil companies assured America accidents like that would never happen again.
But another accident did happen. On October 13, 2004, roughly 1,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Puget Sound estuary, near Tacoma, Washington. The spill blackened the beaches and waters, threatening aquatic plants, seabirds and fish. Unlike the Exxon Valdez spill, it was not clear who caused the spill and nobody claimed responsibility for the accident.
Enter veteran journalist Eric Nalder. On March 22, 2005, the SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER published the first article in a series detailing the safety concerns of oil tankers belonging to the international energy corporation, ConocoPhillips. Although ConocoPhillips denied responsibility, the Coast Guard had traced the oil to a tanker owned by ConocoPhillips’ subsidiary Polar Tankers as early as December 2004. Nalder’s reporting revealed systemic problems within the company that were undermining the very safety reforms implemented in direct response to the Exxon Valdez spill. Safety concerns included requiring crews to work long hours, ignoring possible alcohol abuse by crew members, and company efforts to diminish tug escort requirements in Washington State waters. Moreover, Nalder found evidence alleging that crewmembers aboard another Polar tanker had participated in an oil-spill cover-up.
In EXPOSÉ’s “A Sea of Trouble,” Nalder’s doggedness and trademarked interview techniques help shed light on a murky situation.