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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Oil Spills: One Woman's Story

Air Date: Week of

The Shetland Islands oil spill brings back commentator Alix White's memories of another spill more than 15 years ago.


CURWOOD: The recent oil spills in Scotland and Spain have gotten commentator Alix White thinking about a spill she was involved with years ago.

WHITE: It was a foggy night at the end of June in 1976. The pilot had boarded the tug in Massena, New York to help guide an oil barge upriver to the Great Lakes through the narrow, rocky stretch of the St. Lawrence River known as the Thousand Islands. The tug got off course, and the barge hit a shoal, dumping 300,000 gallons of crude oil. The spill traveled as fast as the currents and wind would take it. Eventually 200 miles of shoreline would be contaminated. The oil spill cleanup company went into overtime. The tourist season was ruined, but if you were willing to scrub rocks, clean out marshes, work twelve-hour days, and get covered from head to foot in crude oil, then you could get the job.

One day, someone brought me a Great Blue Heron to clean. The spill had moved past the nesting ground of this noble bird. Such a symbol of the river. I held the bird in my arms and watched as her feathers, weighted down with oil, fell off her back one by one until I could see her spine. The bird was taken away from me. She was killed so that she wouldn't suffer any more. I was stunned -- how could the oil that I depend on to drive up and down this beautiful river be so deadly?

Each year, we continue to use more oil than the previous one. We also continue to import more oil -- usually by single-hull supertanker. But making safer tankers is only one solution. We must alter our lifestyles to use less gasoline. We must push for stronger mass transportation and then use it. And we need to change the way we use energy in our homes and offices. Today someone in Scotland or Spain holds that dying bird, just as countless of us have in the 17 years since I held mine. Whether we actually hold that bird or not, the oil is on our hands.

CURWOOD: Alix White is a writer, living in Cohasset, Massachusetts.



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