Exxon Corp. has spent an "unbelievable" $1.9 billion cleaning up last spring's Prince William Sound oil spill, Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner said Monday.
Skinner's was the highest estimate of the cleanup cost for the March 24 spill yet given by either the government or the company.
Skinner, continuing his longrunning praise of Exxon's efforts, said the full story of the extent of the cleanup after the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound has not been told. The ship spilled 11 million gallons of North Slope crude oil that spread over a vast area.
"It should never have happened, but at least a very substantial, goodfaith effort has been made to clean up that spill," Skinner said at a yearend session with reporters.
"The last number I heard from Exxon Corporation is that they have spent one billion, 900 million dollars in their cleanup effort since the accident. That is an unbelievable number," Skinner said.
Perry Smith, spokesman for Exxon in Alaska, said the company's only public declaration of what it has spent is "over a billion dollars," including $160 million in claims paid to fishermen and others who said they were harmed by the spill.
Smith said no other breakdown of company expenditures was available. He said expenses would include salaries for cleanup crews, reimbursements to the Coast Guard for its work, equipment expenses and fees for scientists and consultants.
Les Rogers, an Exxon spokesman in Houston, also said he could not confirm Skinner's figure.
Skinner said nature is expected to contribute to the cleansing of shorelines this winter.
"Next spring, we'll go up there and decide what remains to be done, and they're committed to do whatever needs to be done," he said, adding that he expected the need to be considerably less than last year.
Smith, speaking for Exxon, said the company would wait to see what the Coast Guard determines needs to be done in the spring, "and we'll respond to them."
Skinner credited insistence from President Bush, White House chief of staff John Sununu and his own efforts, along with Exxon's willingness, for the cleanup.
He said Exxon's response was in contrast with operations after other oil spills throughout the world "where no effort close to that was undertaken."
Environmentalists have been critical of the cleanup effort, accusing the administration of letting the company off the hook without examining longterm damage.
The state of Alaska is suing Exxon, accusing it of negligence in both the spill and the cleanup. Exxon has filed a countersuit, alleging that the state hindered the cleanup by opposing the use of oildispersing chemicals.
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