Exxon workers hitting Alaska's beaches for a second summer of cleanup got approval from Gov. Steve Cowper to use potentially toxic fertilizer to remove oil. "Everything's dead anyway," he said.
About 100 Exxon workers in five teams Tuesday were sent to pick up oily debris on the shoreline in Prince William Sound. Three more squads of 20 to 50 each will go out later this week, said Exxon spokesman Jim Robertson.The cleanup from Exxon's March 1989 spill of nearly 11 million gallons of North Slope crude was suspended in September. The nation's biggest oil spill killed hundreds of otters and thousands of birds and other animals. More than 200 miles of shoreline still have some oil, according to an Exxon survey.
State officials decided Tuesday to permit extensive use of fertilizers along the Prince William Sound shoreline. The urea- and phosphorous-based fertilizer speeds the growth of bacteria known to eat oil.
"We know direct application of these chemicals will have a toxic effect," Cowper said. "But the flip side is these beaches have been heavily oiled and everything's dead anyway."
Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation had balked at the process, known as bioremediation.
Exxon has said it wants to use bioremediation on 160 of the 209 sites it had surveyed as of last week.
The state dropped its hesitation over the technique after reviewing Environmental Protection Agency data on toxicity and the effectiveness of Inipol, a French-made fertilizer developed especially for oily shores.