Gary Bader was interviewed on May 29, 2007 by Sharon Bushell. The location of the interview is unknown, however Gary Bader was the Alyeska liaison representative to the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, so it is likely the interview was conducted in Valdez, Alaska. Gary's interview was conducted as part of Sharon Bushell's work on the book, The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster, by Stan Jones and Sharon Bushell. (Kenmore, WA: Epicenter Press, 2009). In this interview, Gary talks about his experience during the first few days after the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and the oil industry's response to the disaster. He talks about his experience working with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council (PWSRCAC) and discusses his opinion of the lasting impact the oil spill had on Prince William Sound.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: May 29, 2007
Narrator(s): Gary Bader
Interviewer(s): Sharon Bushell
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His personal background
First reactions to the oil spill
The first few days after the spill
Attitudes towards Alyeska after the spill
Lack of preparation for the spill
Changes in management
Meetings with local Alaskans
Life since the spill
How the oil spill changed Alaska
Oil industry's reaction and the emotional impact of the spill
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SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, so, here we have Gary Bader. And it is the 29th of May, you don’t need to speak up, you should be just fine.
And Gary I don’t have uh, I don’t have a clue as to what you do and what part you played in the oil spill response. So, why don’t you just tell me how you heard about the oil spill, and what those days immediately thereafter were like for you.
GARY BADER: At the time of the oil spill I was the human resource manager for Alyeska Pipeline. Part of my responsibility was managing safety and fire protection.
I heard about it because of the safety aspect -- my safety people in Valdez called me. And, uh, told me what had happened. So that’s how I became aware of the spill itself.
The first reaction was one of -- I think we were almost stunned. We were surprised that, not only that it happened, but that it could happen. Our culture at the time was one of believing that it wouldn’t happen, it couldn’t happen.
It was, there were too many safeguards in place.
SHARON BUSHELL: I'm not sure I can see the red light.
GARY BADER: So that was my immediate reaction. The second reaction was that it wouldn’t take long to clean it up. That we’d have it cleaned up in three or four days so it’s not such a big deal. Even though there was a lot of oil. We knew there was a lot of oil.
But we had, you know, had no idea that in fact we weren’t ready. That the equipment was, a lot of the equipment was up on the beach being repaired, in for maintenance, wasn’t ready to go and so we weren’t there.
SHARON BUSHELL: That must have gone down pretty hard on you.
GARY BADER: It did. It did. That was, that was a bad time in Alyeska for a lot of us. And then I remember meeting with our president, George Nelson, who called all of the managers together in the cafeteria in Bragaw.
And essentially what he said was it wasn’t our fault. The fact of the Exxon hitting a rock wasn’t our fault. The fact that it wasn’t cleaned up in time wasn’t our fault.
And many of us couldn’t swallow that. I mean, here we were in the largest oil spill in recent history, or maybe in all of history in the U.S. and it wasn’t our fault. Anyway, that was the reaction.
SHARON BUSHELL: So did you say that you were living in Valdez at the time?
GARY BADER: No, no. I was living in Anchorage, my office was in Bragaw. And I had safety people in Valdez up and down the pipeline, and a few in Anchorage. I had the, of course all of the firemen in Valdez, and up and down the pipeline. And the health, all the paramedics and the medics on the pipeline and the company doctor and nurse reported to me.
As well as employment, and records and training. There must have been something else, but I’ve been gone for twelve years so, I’m hoping to forget some of this.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, well hopefully this is the last time you'll have to go through it. So, so describe those first few days for me.
GARY BADER: Chaos. I never over flew the Exxon Valdez. I let the people in the field do their job. Although I was in Valdez, I never went out to the ship.
In fact on a personal note, I had a thirty-four foot boat at the time in Seward and about day five or so, I got a call from VECO asking me to lease my boat and I said, "Nah, this is not gonna take long. I don’t want you messing my boat up." Talk about a mistake.
Well, chaos. Trying to figure out who was in charge. We didn’t have unified commander at the time. So we had Exxon, we had the Coast Guard, we had the DEC, Alyeska. All kind of working independently.
And Alyeska moved fairly quick but it wasn’t quick enough, you know. Three days wasn’t quick enough. I think it was three days, I could be wrong on that. To get our barge off the beach.
But my focus at the time was safety and fire protection. We had not yet even discussed dispersants or anything. We were just trying to get our arms around the thing. You know, it just -- as you probably know, it was okay for the first couple of days until that wind came up.
And then it all went to hell in a hand basket.
SHARON BUSHELL: Tell me more about that. I -- I -- I don’t know that.
GARY BADER: Oh well we -- the oil was coming out of the ship -- and I know this from videos even though I wasn’t there personally.
Oil was coming out of the ship. We had some boom out and the oil was relatively contained around the ship.
By that time, I believe the second tanker was either alongside or coming close to coming alongside to off-load the oil off the Exxon Valdez.
And then a north wind came through as the north winds do in March in Valdez. And it just blew that oil everywhere. Just blew it everywhere. I mean it was gone.
It was out of control at that point. There was no amount of boom was going to keep that in.
So we -- the window of opportunity was in the first 48 hours. And for the first 48 hours we were trying to figure out what the hell to do. Not do it, but figure out what to do.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
GARY BADER: And we, we became, in Alyeska -- I can’t figure out the best way to say this.
We became insulated within ourself. We -- instead of moving outward to get the help we needed, we moved inward you know. We were just getting the crap beat out of us everywhere.
And as it turns out appropriately so, but we didn’t like it much.
So -- we went, you know, and the timeline on all this is different. But we went from -- you know, are you familiar with the red trucks?
SHARON BUSHELL: No.
GARY BADER: Alyeska has red trucks, red pick-ups. Everything's red. Pick-ups, the big trucks, the semis, everything was red. We hired rental cars, unmarked, to drive around because we couldn’t drive the red trucks around.
Cause people were throwing rocks and eggs and everything at us. So -- that’s what it was like.
The safety people, I have to say, at the time – not because I managed them. I’m not a safety person. I was a manager in charge of an area that I wasn’t technically qualified. I was qualified to manage it, but not to do the work.
They did a excellent job. They put in place things like the use of respirators. They were doing air testing, so that the worker’s weren’t exposed, unduly exposed. They went nationwide to find enough protective equipment, gloves, boots, hats, Tyvek suits, everything they could. They did a stand up job.
I’m talking about the people in Valdez because the people on the pipeline were still doing their work. And they didn’t get involved.
SHARON BUSHELL: But it all took time.
GARY BADER: All took time, and the only thing we didn’t have was time. We didn’t know it then. But looking back at it -- how many years?
SHARON BUSHELL: Eighteen.
GARY BADER: Eighteen years ago. Wow, how time flies. It seems like yesterday. So that was how I remember it.
SHARON BUSHELL: So, uh -- once uh, the contracts began and Exxon began to take more of a participatory role, um, did things sort of level out in Valdez?
GARY BADER: Oh no. What do you mean level out? I mean by that time, by the time they came in it was a bona fide disaster everywhere. I mean there was no leveling out.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. I guess I was just hoping they would stop throwing eggs at you.
GARY BADER: Oh no. It got worse. It got worse. I mean the rental cars lasted for months. Maybe up to a year before, well when Exxon arrived, Exxon, and only, the only way Exxon can do, took control of everything. Which quite frankly suited the heck out of us.
We were under-staffed. We weren’t staffed up for that. You know, we were trying to operate the terminal and work on the oil spill at the same time. We didn’t have the staff for that.
So they brought in their own managers and they began interfacing with DEC and then Coast Guard. And, hell everybody was involved. The Feds were there, even the FBI was there.
So, no, but it didn’t level out, but we moved from the front line to the back line if you will in terms of our responsibilities. We became more supportive to Exxon. I can remember briefing Exxon.
I can remember having our safety people brief their safety people, who I believe was a mix of Exxon and VECO, then. Because VECO was hiring safety people to come in and pick up the slack. We were quite happy to have them in charge.
SHARON BUSHELL: Did you ever feel like your life was in jeopardy?
GARY BADER: No. No. You know, unless you got hit in the head with a rock. And nobody did. But it was just the feeling of extreme dislike and distrust, which it was. Which is exactly what it was.
SHARON BUSHELL: So why do you suppose Alyeska was um so ill prepared for this? I mean why, why was the equipment so inaccessible, and was there ... ?
GARY BADER: I guess I really don’t know why the equipment was inaccessible. My, my sense was, all of us had bought into the – what do they call it -- this can only happen in, well once in x number of years.
And we weren’t there yet, so it wasn’t gonna happen. Well it happened. The equipment was up on the beach being repaired. And it was a scheduled maintenance.
I mean they didn’t put it up there cause they didn’t want to use it. They, they -- it requires maintenance.
The problem was we didn’t have any back up. Or if we had back up it wasn’t available. I don’t believe we had back up for the oil spill barge.
We didn’t have a fishing vessel program in place. We didn’t have community relations, to speak of, in place.
Some of the people in Valdez had never been to the village of Tatitlek. I’m talking about managers and the public affairs people. Never been there.
Staffing was staffed for operations, not for that kind of catastrophe.
Why? I don’t know why. We just didn’t think it was gonna happen. It just wasn’t going to happen.
SHARON BUSHELL: So as time when on, did anything, was there any lightening, or was it just always, just always a hideous situation that you couldn’t escape?
GARY BADER: It went from hideous to really hideous. And for a couple of reasons.
After the Exxon Valdez, George Nelson was president. Then his head rolled out the door and Jim Hermiller became president.
And that was a welcome relief. But Jim served his purpose. He established Jim was, I think substantially responsible for putting the RCAC into place.
And then his head rolled out the door. And David Pritchard came in. And then things went really upside down.
Because Pritchard came in with the BP mentality, even though Hermiller was BP, he was an American.
And Alyeska was a really great place to work before all of that. It was. Alyeska took care of its people. Its people took care of Alyeska.
Pay and benefits were excellent. David Pritchard came in and told everybody -- I mean, from the top on down, that you are now responsible for your own destiny.
And that was okay. But nobody ever told us what the hell it meant. What does that mean?
And then people were being laid off. It was about a year and a half after the spill that the job came up of a liaison between Alyeska and the RCAC that I asked for and got.
And I liked it because I knew the region, I knew the Prince William Sound, I knew Kodiak, I knew the Kenai Peninsula.
I didn't, you know, I wasn’t intimate with any of it, but I knew my way around. I knew how to get there. And I knew where the villages were.
I knew a couple of the mayors and chiefs. So ... that was think that started about a year after the spill, and I was fully in place like a year-and-a-quarter, year-and-a-half after the spill.
I called myself the -- Alyeska -- Alyeska’s Designated Target.
But we were in the -- we spent a lot of time in villages and in towns, meeting primarily with mayors and city councils and village councils.
SHARON BUSHELL: How’d those meetings go in general?
GARY BADER: They started off really bad. I mean, it was something you had to do. I mean, you had to get it out on the table. You had to deal with the elephant in the room. And I was dealing with it on behalf of Alyeska.
I can remember the first RCAC meetings they didn't -- almost didn’t let me in the room. I was, I had to stand in the doorway.
SHARON BUSHELL: -- make a quick exit --
GARY BADER: Yeah. Well yeah. Those meetings were -- a lot of emotion. A lot of emotion.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, I remember many Homer meetings, that’s where I’m from and uh, every citizen, every person involved with the fisheries wanted to have their testimony be on record, and they would last for hours and hours.
And they were just one sad story after another. And what could you do?
GARY BADER: Oh, there was no good that came out of that. Well, there was. There was some good that came out.
I mean this organization came out of it. This is what they need on the slope right now to deal with BP. The Oil Spill Response Fishing Vessel Program all of that came out of it.
So, you know there -- there’s some good. They’ll be better prepared next time. Tractor tugs didn’t come out of it, but it came right after it you know, because of this organization. In my mind, that's a, that's a big benefit to the citizenry in the area.
The fact of tractor tugs they're a phenomenal piece of equiptment.
SHARON BUSHELL: So you say you’ve been away from all this for twelve years? Whacha been doing?
GARY BADER: December of 1995 they put out a package, I raised my hand and got the hell out of there. It wasn’t a fun place to work anymore.
You know, I enjoyed my -- I don’t remember how much time it was. This happened in ’89.
Probably four years I was liaison with the RCAC. What have I done for the past twelve years?
I'll tell you one I haven’t done. I have not set foot in Alyeska or BP’s office.
Not once. I travel, I fish, I hunt. I got a boat in Seward. Cabins on some of the rivers. House in Washington.
SHARON BUSHELL: I’m from Washington.
GARY BADER: You are? SHARON BUSHELL: Port Angeles.
GARY BADER: I'm from, my house is a little place called Bay Center which is just outside of South Bend. Raymond, South Bend. About fifty people live in Bay Center, which suits me just fine.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, that sounds like a good number.
GARY BADER: I got an acre on the beach, on the water not much of a beach.
SHARON BUSHELL: So I guess the Alyeska thing sort of left a bad taste in your mouth?
GARY BADER: Alyeska didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth. What happened, what happened after the spill, when BP came in and took over.
And quite frankly, what’s happened since I left, just kind of verified what I thought was gonna happen.
So do I have a bad taste in my mouth now? Nah, I don’t hate anybody for it, you know.
But I don’t need to, I don't need to go back. You can never go back anyway.
But -- but I see things -- in fact, I was just in Valdez. My daughter is a technician at the terminal.
And I drove by the convention center, I remember some of the drills we had. Huge drills. Great drills.
I was just wondering to myself, if they have them anymore?
And I've some, I think they probably don’t. If they do, they’re very few and far between. And I knew that was gonna happen.
I know some of the fishing vessel administrators because I put that program together.
We went out and contracted with the fishing boats. We went out and did the training.
You know, we went, we didn’t buy the boom but we caused the boom to be purchased. And that was a great program.
And I remember talking to one of them, and Alyeska was trying to cut their salaries -- they're not salaries -- they're on contract for a fixed amount a month.
And, was trying to cut that back, and I knew that was gonna happen. I don’t trust oil companies.
You know, this thing that happened with BP -- and this does not go on the record --
SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, no that's, that's totally up to you --
GARY BADER: -- this thing with BP, this thing with BP is no surprise. The fact that they cut back and took a chance rather than do the maintenance and monitoring that they should have.
That sort of thing probably doesn’t happen at the terminal because of this organization, because you've got people looking over their shoulders.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah.
GARY BADER: I can remember after, there’s a lot of turn over in the oil industry. A lot. At the top level.
You know presidents, vice-presidents, it's just a blur sometimes. They come in, they want to make their mark, you know and then go back to their owner company.
But I can remember owners coming in and you know, I’d brief the owners when they’d come in. I was a senior manager.
I wasn’t a vice president but I was a senior manager on the RCAC. And their question was why are we doing this?
Why are we paying these people at the time it was one million, or was it two million?
Anyway whatever it was, one or two million a year. And I had this -- it’s like teaching your kids.
You had to start from scratch and explain to them from whence we came, you know.
Why we’re here today. You know, some of them, it’s like they never heard of the Exxon Valdez. That was discouraging.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yes. Well, how did the oil spill, in the larger picture, how do you think it changed Alaska?
GARY BADER: Well I think most Alaskans don’t trust oil companies very much. The oil spill -- as I said earlier, caused a lot of good things, positive things. No, it’s not good when you have to prepare for a disaster, but it’s positive that you’re preparedness is better.
Oversight is better. I still don’t know if the DEC is doing their job, but I don’t know that they’re not either.
Because I don’t wanna, I’ve had enough of that. I don't watch them anymore.
How’s it changed Alaska? I think in the long run it hasn’t changed Alaska much, unfortunately.
I think Alaskans are just like everybody else, you know. After a while we become complacent.
After a while we get on with our lives, and we go do other things.
We don’t focus on the fact that there not the number of oil spill drills and training and exercises with the fishing vessels and expertise within the oil industry that, for how, perhaps it should be.
Anyway, that’s my take on it.
SHARON BUSHELL: Okay. Um, how did it change your life?
GARY BADER: Well I got to retire pretty early.
Today I don’t trust oil companies. I don’t trust any big company.
I see the value of an organization like this. Which is not to say I agreed with everything they did. I didn’t. I came close to pulling the plug on this organization a couple of times. Glad I didn’t.
But they were branching, you I guess were branching out in areas that you didn’t have, in my view, the authority or responsibility to branch out into. I think I became more jaded, guarded.
Don’t, don't take what they say as gospel. I wouldn’t even say trust but verify cause I don't trust 'em. But I’ll verify whatever they say if I, if I can. But I don’t focus on it.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, I can see that.
GARY BADER: I don’t focus on it. I got a life to live and they're paying you people a lot of money to watch, so I don’t have to. Which is good. Is Joe Banta still here?
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, he’s over in the office where I work.
GARY BADER: Is he? I always liked Joe. Joe's a good man.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yup. Yup. Yeh, no. I’m actually not an RCAC employee. I’m just a contracted person to put this book together.
GARY BADER: Homer was one of my least favorable places to go.
SHARON BUSHELL: How's that?
GARY BADER: Oh they were upset in Homer. I met a lot of great people though.
Jerome Selby in Kodiak. Gary Kompkoff in Tatitlek.
Oh, I can’t remember the lady's name in Chenega Bay, the Vice President -- Evans. Was her last name?
SHARON BUSHELL: Gary Kompkoff in --
GARY BADER: Tatitlek
SHARON BUSHELL: Tatitlek
GARY BADER: Jerome Selby in Kodiak. Harry Gregwar [Sp?] in Homer always treated me decently.
Even though he wanted to just beat up on me, you know, when I got there he was friendly and courteous.
I can’t remember her name in Chenega Bay.
SHARON BUSHELL: So, uh Jerome, what's Jerome's last name in Kodiak?
GARY BADER: Selby. I think its S-E-L-B-Y. He was a borough mayor at the time. Jerome was a realist. I mean, he was pragmatic. I can remember, we brought in some enormous amount of boom -- 50,000 feet of boom into Kodiak.
We came back a year or two later and they couldn’t find it.
I went up to Jerome, "What the hell is going on here? You know, where’s all that boom?" He finally found it. But when we first got there we couldn’t find it.
SHARON BUSHELL: Well we don’t have to go on, beyond recording what for you is the most important stuff about the oil spill, so if you think that’s it?
GARY BADER: I, you know, there's -- no -- there's -- you’re asking the questions, so --
SHARON BUSHELL: I guess, being a woman, I always am concerned about the emotional resonance of how this whole thing affected communities, affected families, affected friendships.
Is this something that was so full of fractures that was irreparable that way?
GARY BADER: I don’t think the oil industry ever got it. I got it. But I don’t think, I don't think they ever got it.
I don't think they ever understood the trauma. They couldn’t understand the trauma of Gary Kompkoff, who was the chief of the nearest village having to find out about the oil spill on CNN.
They didn’t even know how to call him, at the time. And they never, and I’m not sure they know about it today. They might. They might.
As I said, I don’t follow them. During my time there, I don’t think they ever really got it. Jim Hermiller got it.
But they rolled his head out the door. And when I say they rolled it out the door, they rolled it out with a pretty good package, you know?
So he’s taken care of. I was taken care of. They're probably not going to like seeing some of this, but that’s the way it is. I don’t much care.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah. Well, as I say, of course you’ll have the -- the right to edit.
So I’m ultimately going to be taking a trip to Houston. I've got several names to pursue down there, but is there anybody that you can think of that would be --
GARY BADER: Jeez, I have no idea who was -- Steve Dietrich lives in Houston. He was the uh, he was a vice president at the time. But I think Steve came in after the oil spill.
SHARON BUSHELL: I have an interview tomorrow morning with Greg, with Greg Jones.
GARY BADER: Oh, Greg Jones, good man.
SHARON BUSHELL: Is he a good man?
GARY BADER: Yeah. Good man.
SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, good. I'll stop being intimidated.
GARY BADER: No, he’s straight. He’s a good man.
SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, good.
GARY BADER: The guy you should talk to was the Commandant of the Coast Guard in Valdez before Greg. And I can’t remember his name.
SHARON BUSHELL: Oh, the -- the captain --
GARY BADER: The captain of the port.
SHARON BUSHELL: The captain of the port, yeah McCall [Sp].
GARY BADER: No, he was the captain of the port at the time of the spill. The guy between McCall[sp], between him and Greg Jones. He’s the guy that put together a lot of the training and the unified command. Which was an enormous step forward.
SHARON BUSHELL: Okay, I'll make a note to --
GARY BADER: I can’t remember his name. I never met anybody in the captain of the port position that wasn’t absolutely professional and honest and straight-forward.
SHARON BUSHELL: Okay. Alright. Well any closing words?
GARY BADER: Keep, keep this place going. Get another one up on the North Slope.
SHARON BUSHELL: Yeah, that's a good idea.
GARY BADER: We need one.
SHARON BUSHELL: Alright.