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Book Review: Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill by Riki Ott

Review by Laura Sanders

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Just as Katrina was more than a hurricane, the Exxon Valdez disaster was more than an oil spill, writes marine biologist and “fisherma’am” Riki Ott. In this account, Ott traces the forces that led up to what she calls “The Big One,” and chronicles the tragic environmental, personal and legal fallout from the spill.

Just before midnight on March 23, 1989, the fully loaded tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s vibrant Prince William Sound, belching millions of gallons of crude into the water. Hours after the tanker crashed, Ott flew over deep blue water and pinkish white mountains on the way to witness the spill. “Juxtaposed against this beautiful calmness lies the stricken tanker, blood red and bleeding inky black,” Ott describes. “The strong vapors make our heads and stomachs reel.”

The unprecedented oil spill is viewed through the lens of Cordova, a small fishing community and Ott’s home, on the edge of the sound. After the spill, Cordova’s economy collapsed as herring and salmon disappeared. Residents watched helplessly as Exxon bungled the cleanup operation, broke promises to compensate residents and vehemently fought lawsuits in and out of court, Ott writes.

The book concludes as a June 2008 Supreme Court decision reduces the punitive award against Exxon to less than 10 percent of the original $5 billion settlement.

Not One Drop is written in a familiar and nontechnical tone, more a historical narrative than a scientific explanation of the damage from the spill. At times Ott lapses into didacticism. Even so, the book offers a personal glimpse of all that was lost underneath the oil slick.

Chelsea Green, 2008, 327 p., $21.95.

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