Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Riki Ott, Part 1
Riki Ott
Riki Ott was interviewed on March 27, 2014 by Alicia Zorzetto at the offices of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council in Anchorage, Alaska. In this first part of a three part interview, Dr. Ott talks about studying oil and dispersants as a graduate student, moving to Alaska, joining Cordova District Fishermen United, and studying the use of oil dispersants in Prince William Sound.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-26-20_PT.1

Project: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Mar 27, 2014
Narrator(s): Riki Ott
Interviewer(s): Alicia Zorzetto
Videographer: Alicia Zorzetto
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Resources Library & Information Services, Alaska State Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council
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Sections

Growing up in Wisconsin and seeing the effects of DDT

Studying oil and dispersants as a graduate student

Moving to Alaska and joining Cordova District Fishermen United

Testifying on behalf of Cordova District Fishermen United

Fishing in Alaska

Studying the use of dispersants in Prince William Sound

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Transcript



ALICIA ZORZETTO: Well today is March 27, 2014. My name is Alicia Zorzetto at the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council office here in Anchorage.

I am interviewing Riki Ott. Riki has a long history of studying oil spills. It all started from what I know it all started from the Exxon Valdez if you correct me on that.

RIKI OTT: That was Ph.D. number 2 -- was the Exxon Valdez.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Exactly. So why don’t we start, you know, a lot of people have talked to you about different things so why don’t we start where -- actually wherever you kind of want -- want to start whether you want start on March 24, 1989 or even further back.

RIKI OTT: I actually want to back it up a little bit --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: If that’s okay. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: Cause I think -- I think this part's really important cause it kind of sets the stage for what happened and that was growing up in Wisconsin in the 1960’s -- the later 1960’s.

I was a middle school student walking to school and literally birds were falling out of the sky and dying and they would land at my feet and I would pick them up and they were like shivering and I would put them under bushes to die and, you know, days of this and finally one day it occurs to me that, you know, this is not really right.

So I went home and I asked my dad why were -- why were these robins dying? Sixty-seven and instead of making me feel better he put my hands together and he -- the birds were everywhere and he put a dying robin in my hands and I’m looking at this bird and the eyes are dilating and constricting and it’s shivering and dad explained that it was dying from neurotoxin from its nerves being poisoned and it didn’t have control anymore and it was because of DDT.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: And that --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: What did that stand for?

RIKI OTT: So DDT is -- good question. I don’t even remember the chemical name, but it’s a chemical that was made to kill mosquitoes.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay

RIKI OTT: And it was being sprayed through all of our neighborhoods in these trucks that went roaring through the neighborhood and then these big white clouds and my dad would keep us inside -- us three children.

And I remember one day being inside and looking at my father as one of these trucks was rolling through and feeling sad.

And I realized, oh, my dad is sad and then I looked outside and I realized, oh, in my kid mind, you know, I was like 13 that it's killing the birds it’s not good for us kids either.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And that is how I connected it that -- in that spot. It was like oh we’re all connected.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: This is the same air we’re breathing so it’s killing everything not just the mosquitoes but robins obviously.

Well so my dad gave me Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to read and I read that book the summer I turned 14 and all of her other books because at that point I was totally enamored on Rachel Carson. Of course she was a marine biologist.

And this was sort of the first wakeup call about chemicals being nonspecific. You tar -- you -- they’re made to target one thing, but they get into the environment and then they’re in it. They’re --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: (Inaudible).

RIKI OTT: Through the air we breathe -- the water that we drink -- everything. My dad went on to sue the state of Wisconsin over the use of DDT.

The chemical was banned in 1972 and then 1973 the rest of the nation banned it, so Wisconsin was the first one -- the state to ban it.

That was the year that I went off to college to find an ocean cause by now I wanted to become a marine biologist.

It was also during these years -- ’67, ’68, ’67 was the Torrey Canyon spill.

That was the first big super tanker -- well, what was called the super tanker then which dwarfs in comparison to what they are now.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And that -- that spill was over in England and the international community was shocked. Everyone thought that -- everyone assumed that these oil companies would know how to clean up a mess and they didn’t.

So the international community was outraged and insisted that change, you know, figure it out.

The United States wrote the National Contingency Plan a year later -- 1968 and by the time I got into college and upper college and finally -- I mean I was writing papers in -- when I was still in -- in -- not in graduate school as an undergraduate.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And what I was researching were these first generation dispersants that had come out. Here’s the oil industry’s answer to cleaning up -- cleaning up these spills is to throw basically turpentine -- a solvent at the oil to dissolve the oil.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And I had a Thomas Watson Fellowship. I looked at the effects of oil on Bermudian beaches. The Bermuda was where a lot of tankers were crisscrossing to bring oil into the eastern seaboard.

They were deballasting at sea. The ballast water then was contaminated with oil and slosh, slosh, you get these tar balls that were from like pea size to like seriously like grapefruit size that were washing up on the Bermudian beaches melting in the hot sun and asphalt.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, wow.

RIKI OTT: All these big sand beaches. I mean Bermuda had had it and there were actually dishpan -- plastic dishpan tubs of solvents outside the hotel doors so that when you went and had your lovely walk on the beach and your feet were completely plastered with black oil you could --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Clean your --

RIKI OTT: Clean your feet. And I had to throw my swimming suit out when I left and my windsurfer was totally like, you know, the sail and the white board was all streaked with oil.

Yeah, it was serious. So I was trying different bioremediation techniques, but the -- the asphalt was too hard at that point for -- I remember that.

And then I went to Malta and got involved with the dispersants and I was shocked because, my God, I was for the University of Malta -- I was a part of a study doing this for part of a study.

The dispersants -- the first generation of dispersants were incredibly toxic. I mean it was literally like throwing turpentine at the beach.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And so it basically killed whatever had survived the oil.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: From the spill.

RIKI OTT: I was just like no, no, no this is not going to work either. So back to the drawing board.

So finish up Thomas Watson Fellowship -- go get my Masters --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Do you -- I’m sorry can I interrupt you and just ask you a question? You were studying dispersants with like a fairly open perspective as to wanting it to work if it could.

RIKI OTT: Wanting it to work.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: And it turned out that in the seventies and in the early eighties -- really in the seventies that’s when international law -- the sea was changing.

Marpol -- marine pollution laws were being passed. Tankers weren’t supposed to deballast at sea.

They were supposed to do load on top and that actually impacted Alyeska as well, but Alyeska hadn’t been created yet so it would impact it and I'll -- we’ll get there cause that has to deal with chronic oil pollution at the terminal.

But anyway the money -- when you’re in graduate school or getting grants -- Thomas Watson Fellowship essentially was a research project that I wanted to do the state of the art in marine biology then was oil work.

So there was money flowing to do oil work and it was -- it was truly independent funds. I mean people wanted to know what would work.

Clean Water Act was getting -- got amended and Clean Water Act was a predecessor -- well then the Oil Pollution Act after the oil spill tightened up.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: But the Clean Water Act was the first body of law that directed the President to respond to oil spills.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: To do something.

RIKI OTT: Yeah and then the President directed EPA through the National Contingency Plan that’s how it worked. That was under the Clean -- is still under the Clean Water Act.

So this is all kind of going on this parallel course as I’m in school and I’m not really having any career thoughts at this point.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: I’m just thinking this is interesting work and it's taking me some really cool places -- Bermuda, Malta, England.

I was in England for six months doing research on different fractions of oil in the water column and how it affected zooplankton, little copepods and I got Masters at the University of South Carolina and then I doctored at the University of Washington.

I hopped coasts. Finished my Doctorate in 1985 and thought oh, what’s the rush? I've been studying, studying, studying -- maybe I should just take some time off. What -- what -- what could it hurt one summer to go to Alaska.

I had always wanted to go to Alaska. So off I go and --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Says a lot of people who never leave. that's what everyone says.

RIKI OTT: So one summer little did I know would turn into 28 years.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Exactly, yeah.

RIKI OTT: Years, right. So off I go. I asked my girlfriend to take care of my dog. I’ll be right back, right.

And I got a job crewing on a salmon fishing boat in Prince William Sound.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: So what year was this?

RIKI OTT: This is 1985.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: Summer of 1985 and it was perfect. I loved it. I mean you’re a marine -- I’m a marine biologist what’s not to like. I’m out on the ocean.

Birds are migrating through in May. Seals and -- are having babies. There is little baby seals all around.

There’s orcas swimming back and forth trying to eat the baby seals. I mean it is like sea otters -- it’s like everything I could possibly imagine and it’s all right there and plus fishing was really cool.

And I thought okay if this guy -- my captain -- my skipper at the time can do this I could do this. It just didn’t -- didn’t look that hard.

I didn’t really think about mechanics -- boat engines and breakdowns and that kind -- but anyway the next year my new partner Danny and I bought a fishing boat and permit.

So we actually started fishing in Prince William Sound and the Copper River Delta and it was so seat of the pants adrenaline rush near disaster every time we went out.

We had absolutely no experience other than my one year of fishing and oh, my God.

Anyway it was two years before we felt really comfortable that we weren’t going to die when we went out fishing.

So the fall of 1987 -- so we fished ’86 and we fished ’87.

And we were making a living. We started making a living. I thought this is really cool.

We’re gonna live here. This is going to our place. So I felt like I should pay back our good fortune from the sea.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So I told Danny I’m just going to go into the Cordova District Fishermen United Office they’re having a board meeting and I’ll see what I can do to help.

That sounded pretty innocuous so in I went and there's all these guys they’re having a board meeting and here I am a woman and they’re literally all guys and I said well what could I do to help and they said, hum. Sit down and listen and maybe you’ll find something that interests you.

Fair enough. So I sat down. They were talking about gear allocations, different problems that fishermen were having in 1987.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act was gonna be redone and, you know, sea lions and seals are eating fish from nets and anyway we had to stop the guys shooting at the marine mammals and there were other issues and finally the guys all got around to Alyeska and there was this collective, humf and I was like, huh, well maybe I can help there.

And this entire board of fishermen -- there must have been at least about fifteen of them and they all look at me. And I thought at first -- I got defensive cause I thought they were looking at me like you’re a woman -- what can you do? You can’t do anything.

So what popped out of my mouth next was well I do have a Masters and a Doctorate in Oil Pollution. And --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: All their faces completely changed again and from behind some beard I hear I nominate Riki Ott to the board of directors.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, wow.

RIKI OTT: And then from another beard I hear second, poof -- like that -- I’m suddenly on the board and the one sitting next to me happened to Bob Blake who was the president of the board.

And he had this stack of papers and it turned out it was all the NPDES Permit -- the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System which is like a giant permit to pollute a section of the waterway that Alyeska had.

So Alyeska was not meeting water quality standards when they discharged from their wastewater treatment facility.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: Their ballast water treatment facility.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: They had a -- they were not meeting that at the end of the pipe. They were given a mixing zone which is a body of water that you -- the solution to pollution is dilution.

You put the high effluent levels of hydrocarbons into this and by the time they reach the edge of the mixing zone the levels are diluted to meet the state water quality standards.

Well that’s the theory, okay. Sounds good. But what was happening was our guys -- the seine fleet fished in Port Valdez.

So Alyeska’s mixing zone was actually in our fishing grounds and the guys were getting a little worried that there was too many hydrocarbons.

They could smell hydrocarbons in the air. They could see a bluish haze on days when the clouds were down.

And they just felt like -- like it was acting like a gas station times a thousand, right?

There was chronic air and water pollution problems and the guys had been bringing this forward. Alyeska wasn’t listening. They had all these Ph.D.’s. They wouldn’t listen to fishermen.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So Bob Blake, the president of Cordova District Fishermen United takes this big block of papers and moves it onto my lap and says there the Alyeska case is yours.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: You want to help -- here.

RIKI OTT: And he said yeah the hearing is November 17th or whatever it was and he said call this number at the top.

Just fix the problems at Alyeska and don’t paint us green because the fishermen saw themselves as fishermen. They didn’t see themselves as environmentalists.

Don’t paint us green. Fix the problems and don’t paint us green. Okay. I can do that. I’m a fishermen.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So I come back and Danny's like what happened? I’m like well I’m on the board. And that was sort of the start -- the long political career.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: Cause I thought it would all be pretty straightforward, you know. Find out what they’re doing. Let them know what’s wrong. Fix the problem, you know, right.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Pretty simple.

RIKI OTT: Pretty simple. Well -- so I was prepared. When I went to testify on November whenever it was and no one had -- they were expecting Bob Blake.

Oh, the other thing that Bob Blake said after he shoved this big pile of papers onto my lap was I’m going moose hunting and I didn’t even know enough to ask him for some moose.

Geez. So Stan Stephens -- the ferry was not running in the winter and the city -- the Alaska State Marine Highway System had contracted with Stan Stephens to be the sort of a ferry.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: Between -- the shuttle between Valdez and Cordova in the winter. I didn’t know Stan Stephens. I didn’t know any of these people, right?

At this point I had -- I was just starting. I mean I -- so I’m working on my testimony on the ferr - on Stan’s boat and I’m noticing that the crew is sort of hovering and kind of looking like there is -- to see and they’re polishing the table an awfully long time, you know.

And I’m like what? Finally one of them burst out are you testifying for the fishermen?

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh.

RIKI OTT: Because I was the only one that had gotten on the boat and I’m like looking like -- yeah, why? And they're like come with us you have to meet our skipper and that is how I met Stan Stephens.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, okay.

RIKI OTT: And I -- you know the come and there’s this huge guy looks like Abe Lincoln and puts his big meaty hand in mine and his blue eyes are sparkling and I’m like wow, you know, and so we talked. I was prepared.

So we talked the rest of the way in and we got into the harbor and there is this woman with a little bun and her hair back.

Turns out that was Nancy Lethcoe handling all the bow lines and the other guy that was helping -- no, I think I met him the next day.

So we get the boat tied up and go in to testify and I’m -- holy cow -- there’s a, you know, three tiers of it’s like this is the Civic Center and there is three tiers -- horseshoe shape tiers of seats.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And the first one is all suits. It is all Alyeska big wigs.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: The second tier, apparently all the lawyers, but I didn’t really know that at the time and the third and last tier was half a dozen citizens. This guy in this pink and white striped -- big stripes, polo shirt with a gold chain -- didn’t have a clue who he was. That turned out to be Dan Lawn.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: And Nancy Lethcoe was back there, you know, and it turned out Senator Curt Menard was in the audience too, but I -- I didn’t really know any of these characters.

So the state -- the industry -- the state testifies. Oh, that’s when I saw it was Dan Lawn.

The industry testifies. EPA testified and then -- not in that order, but then it was suddenly the public and the fishermen got called first.

So I go up there and everybody is looking at me like what who are you cause they had expected Bob Blake.

So at that point the first two rows -- I kid you not -- they all just oh, they kicked back in their chair. The lawyers put their legal pads cause way before --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Put them away --

RIKI OTT: Put them under their chairs, right. And everybody's like ho, ho, ho.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Pretty easy.

RIKI OTT: Right. And so I’m sitting there and I knew the minute I opened my mouth everything would change. So I just took this scene in.

This is why I really remember it. I dropped my pencil. I stalled a little bit and I was like okay here goes nothing.

And I just said my name was Riki Ott and I was testifying on behalf of Cordova District Fishermen and I at that point I was also on the Board of United Fishermen of Alaska.

And that I had a Ph.D., a Masters, and a Doctorate in oil pollution and at that point the second tier --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: pulled all their papers out --

RIKI OTT: All their papers out --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh boy.

RIKI OTT: Oh, boy.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: And the people in the back row were like yay -- I mean I have this great image of all this insanity and I went on for half an hour talking about where I thought the problems were.

I thought that the water -- the vapor -- well, no there wasn’t any vapor recovery that was the problem.

The -- where they were aerating the ballast water it was straight up to the air.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So I thought that needed to be covered and, you know, I gave positive feedback on what I thought part of the problem was here.

I had not discovered at that point that they were not doing load on top. The tankers were coming in -- I mean I thought that as did the state of Alaska that the ballast water treatment facility should be detoxing -- taking the oil out of the water -- why wasn’t it?

So I had some suggestions to cut back on chronic pollution and into the water and into the air.

So that was all, of course, you know in 1987 in November and then so things went on. I ended up testifying in Juneau a couple times about these chronic pollution problems.

The winter of ’87, ’88 so the following year -- sorry, ’88 ’89 the following year.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: You know in Alaska we joke. We have the fishing season and we have the meeting season.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: We had another fishing season 1988 which was spectacular. We had our best season ever.

In fact, in 25 years Danny who now owns the boat and permit and fishes by himself told me that he has finally had a year as good as 1988.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: Yeah. So it was a spectacular year and at the same time, of course, the oil was peak flow down the pipeline, oil was on a high, fishing was on a high and it was all like coming to a --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Can I ask you --

RIKI OTT: Collision.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: What were you fishing -- what --

RIKI OTT: Oh, sorry. We had a salmon drift gillnet.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Salmon, okay.

RIKI OTT: So we drifted the Copper River. Delta and then we came over to Prince William Sound. And then we went back for silvers in the fall.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: It was before the silver fishery -- the hatcheries were coming on line and the first -- actually the first silver return was 1988 and I will brag once here.

Our fishing story was that we had -- I the scientist had been following the hatcheries and had realized that the silver run was gonna come in on the Sound and I said -- suggested to Danny that we maybe should get a deep net.

The silvers on the flats they always were at the bottom of our net and the Sound is so much deeper I figured they’d just go under it.

So we were one of two of a fleet of 500 that had a deep silver net with 90 meshes so the normal 30 and we slaughtered the silver salmon.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, wow, great.

RIKI OTT: We had fishermen motoring up to us just so they could see what net we were using.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: Yeah.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Cool.

RIKI OTT: But anyway, okay, so the winter of 1988 to ’89, the Alaska Regional Response Team was looking at the potential use of dispersants in Prince William Sound.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: The Alaska Regional Response Team -- can we just explain what that is a little bit?

RIKI OTT: Right, okay. So at this point --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: It’s a group of different agencies I guess.

RIKI OTT: Well we have the National Contingency Plan which I mentioned.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: Which was for oil and hazardous substance response in the United States and then the National Contingency Plan has 10 regions for EPA around the country.

And Alaska is -- is not its own region, but it is its own -- it’s in Region 10 with Washington and Oregon, but really Washington and Oregon do their own thing. Alaska --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: Does its own thing and mostly it is composed of the state, the federal government and so-called resource agencies.

So NOAA, National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration, and oil companies, or the ones that wanted to come. The Coast Guard was on it. National Marine Fisheries so this was on -- I mean I remember some of the people.

A lot of science heavy and the fishermen had just been out gunned. They knew what they wanted to say, but they weren’t able to communicate it in a way that was, you know, getting any headway.

So here I am -- I was going to say stuck and I still think that’s the right word. I just don’t like that kind of a hierarchical structure and anyway I stuck to the -- what the fishermen wanted.

We had discussed it and we had felt that I had explained that dispersants are these chemicals that are designed to work in deep water where there’s a lot of -- if this is the surface and this is the bottom of the ocean there’s a lot of water here because these chemicals are innately toxic.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Toxic, yeah.

RIKI OTT: They're solvents. They act to dissolve the oil. Dissolve they act to break it up. They act to make it thinner. They act to put it into the -- into this -- into a where we fish.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So it is going to kill things right off the bat.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And then the ocean will dilute it, you know, and somewhere down here it won’t be toxic anymore after so many days if they only have to do one. So the fishermen got it and they were like okay so we don’t want it ashore because ashore there’s no ocean column, right?

You’re -- you’re -- there’s nothing to dilute it.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: So it's just gonna stick, yeah, it's just gonna stay --

RIKI OTT: It will be extraordinarily toxic.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And that’s where the pink salmon -- wild pink salmon spawn.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: It’s where the herring spawn. So we didn’t want anything toxic right near shore.

And we were okay with in central Prince William Sound where it is deep that was okay from what I understood at the time of dispersants and then we had it’s okay unless there are certain things happening like if it's say March and the herring are coming back to spawn we don’t want put the oil that’s up here into the water here and kill all our herring.

That would be a really dumb idea. So we came up with green light which is deep ocean.

Go ahead use it. Essentially preapproved I mean you still have to ask the oil industries still had to ask the Coast Guard and then we had red light which is the coast -- near shore area.

And then we had yellow light which was well maybe it’s a green light normally, but maybe it’s March.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: The herring are coming back. So we all -- it took like six months, but we all agreed to that -- literally two weeks before the Exxon Valdez.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: Yeah and that’s where I made one of my first political mistakes was that if you have a good idea and everybody agrees to it great make it the law as opposed to a voluntary agreement.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: Right. We had a voluntary agreement. So the next thing that happened -- well actually in February I had been speaking at the International Oil Spill Conference which is a big deal. It is held every other year.

I was on a panel about oil risk and spills and --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Was in Anch -- in Alaska?

RIKI OTT: No, it was in Texas.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: In Texas.

RIKI OTT: And the Coast Guard had gone to bat for me in Juneau and said we want this person speaking.

They -- it was hosted by American Petroleum Institute, the Coast Guard and one other entity. I can’t remember right now, but it is pretty oil heavy.

And I was one of the first people if not the first that was not associated with either the oil industry or state or federal governments that had been asked to speak.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: So this was like a very big deal. ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And it is a show of trust that I was, you know, I was being, you know, I was trying to be fair. I was trying to be rational, you know, let’s make it as safe as possible.

This is what the fishermen have been asking and I said it's not a matter of if but when, cause I had analyzed the risk and where did we have the most oil tankers flowing anywhere into the United States, right --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: In Valdez.

RIKI OTT: -- was Valdez and it was crossing our fishing grounds. So I laid it all out and I had testified in congress at this point too in January.

There had been two spills right at the terminal -- at the Alyeska Terminal.

I think -- I can’t remember now if they were February or January, but the industry -- Alyeska had not been able to respond. The duck flats got contaminated.

I mean it was like come on you guys and oh, I also want to point out at this point that I had been shifting focus to work on the vapor recovery.

I realized that something was not right with this ballast water treatment and there was a lot of the incinerators had turned out really weren’t incinerating.

They were off gassing. They weren’t burning at high enough temperatures because bricks had fallen out.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Hum.

RIKI OTT: And so they were flaring a lot of benzene and it turned out the Alyeska Terminal was the largest point source contributor in the country -- in the whole United States.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, that’s --

RIKI OTT: Of benzene -- 48 percent.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: I did not know.

RIKI OTT: Forty-eight percent of the nation’s benzene, right.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Was coming out of Valdez.

RIKI OTT: Right. And the oil industry was doing studies saying oh, it is the burning wood smoke in the -- Valdez. Like come on you guys.

So this was in the news a lot. There was a really good reporter back then PattyEpler who is now in Hawaii I discovered, but anyway she was just rolling out two or three articles a week usually.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, wow.

RIKI OTT: So this was in peoples’ consciousness -- in peoples’ minds that we needed to fix the problems. Nobody was thinking shut it down nothing like that. It was fix the problems.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.