ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Winter winds and waves have broken down or removed much of the oil left over from last year’s cleanup, Exxon says, but state officials are not so sure.
″There’s a considerable amount of oil that’s not been removed,″ said Art Weiner, an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation official who heads scientific programs for the state’s oil spill team.
Exxon officials said Friday that some beaches that were black with oil in September from the March 24 spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker are now clean, especially those that have taken the most intense beatings from winter storms. The beaches are in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska.
Even areas that are more protected from the elements are being cleansed by the harsh weather, they said.
″There has been significant removal through time,″ said Andy Teal, a biologist coordinating Exxon’s shoreline monitoring. ″More than half of what was found in September has disappeared by now,″ he said.
Exxon said its data reflected surveys conducted from September through December.
On Friday, Exxon turned over four months of data from its monitoring program to the state conservation department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The company said the data reflected its best estimate of how much oil from the nation’s worst oil spill remains on the beaches and under the surface of Prince William Sound and the nearby gulf.
The Exxon Valdez went aground on Bligh Reef as it was leaving the oil port of Valdez. It spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude into the sound and the gulf.
Company officials said they hoped the sharing of data with the federal and state governments would help defuse a ″contentious″ atmosphere that has existed in recent months concerning the effects of the spill and cleanup.
″We don’t want to come across as if there’s no problem,″ said Hans Jahns, Exxon’s scientific coordinator who is analyzing the information that 19 scientists have gathered since September. The studies were conducted at 64 sites throughout the oil spill area, Jahns said.
Some beaches remain blackened to varying degrees, he said.
Jahns disputed recent state figures that as much as 6 million to 7 million gallons of oil remained along the affected area, more than 1,000 miles of shoreline of Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska.
Exxon officials refused to estimate how much cleanup might be needed this summer, saying they will release their general 1990 cleanup proposal in March.
State crews surveying the shorelines in the sound and the gulf would have more information on current oil conditions within 10 days, Weiner said.