Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Riki Ott, Part 2
Riki Ott
This is a continuation of the interview with Riki Ott on March 27, 2014 by Alicia Zorzetto at the offices of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council in Anchorage, Alaska. In this second part of a three part interview, Dr. Ott talks about how she learned about the oil spill, surveying the spill site the day of the spill, and working on oil spill policy and legislation. She also talks about experimental cleanup chemicals, the collapse of the fish runs, and the story of the 1993 blockade of Prince William Sound.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-26-20_PT.2

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
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
Slideshow
There is no slideshow for this person.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.

Sections

Speaking about oil spill response immediately before the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Learning about the oil spill and surveying the spill on March 24, 1989

Deciding to work on oil spill policy and legislation

Experimental cleanup chemicals and their effects

Collapse of the fish runs in 1983

Story of the blockade

Piecing together the science

Protesting the merger of Exxon and Mobil corporations

Exxon presenting its science

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.

Transcript



RIKI OTT: So, it got to be the night before -- okay, hold on --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: March 23rd, right?

RIKI OTT: Yes.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: March 23, 1989 something --

RIKI OTT: 1989.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: And what happened was there was a party at Alyeska for celebrating the billionth barrel of oil shipped safely through Prince William Sound.

At the same time the City of Valdez was -- had an ad hoc mayor’s committee, John Devens was the mayor, on oil and I had been over in Valdez teaching at the school, talking about oil. I had a little magnetic board --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: At the college or --

RIKI OTT: No, I was at the middle school and high school.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: And I had a little board that one of the welders in Cordova had made for me. It was metal with a hinge about two and a half feet tall. It would fold up. I could carry it on the plane.

And I had made all these crepe paper creatures. Crabs and fish and I had little magnets glued to the back and then I had a bunch of magnets that were orange -- I had dyed orange -- that was the oil spill at the surface and I could move the magnets down in the water column and show how zooplankton -- I pretended I had a microscope and you could see all these little copepods take these little droplets -- oil droplets and move them into their body and the fish would eat the oil.

So I could show people that what would happen with dispersants, you know.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: You just push all the oil down into the water column -- all the little orange dots and, you know, and then anyway I could show how it would go through the copepods and literally go through the copepods as feces connect with bacteria and particles and settle out on the bottom.

So I could show how this moved into the food web and that's what I was doing. I was trying to educate people. This is -- this is what is going on here.

We need to be prepared for an oil disaster. And oh, God, so Valdez -- the mayor’s ad hoc committee decided maybe it was time to listen to me.

I was talking about not being prepared. What -- what else could we do?

So they decided that they -- maybe there was some negatives to having their oil neighbor as well as all the positives -- the taxes and everything else.

Stan Stephens suggested having me to speak to take Mike Williams’ place.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: Cause Mike Williams was going to be at the party. The weather was a little bit dicey. I decided I didn’t really want to fly over to Valdez and I could use the LIO setup to teleconference over to Valdez.

So that's where I was. I was sitting in this empty room all by myself. I think it started at seven o’clock at night and here’s this whole room full of empty chairs and I’m pretending I’m talking to everybody and I talked and then I -- it was a great lively discussion afterward, good -- good questions.

At the same time, of course, Exxon Valdez is being loaded at the dock as I’m biking back to my cabin and then hiking up through the snow, the tanker's pulling away from the dock and I went to sleep that night thinking that was a really good -- I felt really good about the talk and I just felt like I wanted to sleep in the next morning which is -- I don’t usually do.

So I turned the phone ringer off.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, but if I could just rewind a little bit cause you’re -- you’re notoriously known within Alaska at least for being the one that --

RIKI OTT: Right so --
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Point --

RIKI OTT: So I said I did I said it again. I said that night I said it is not a matter of if but when.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: When there's an oil spill.

RIKI OTT: There's another big -- there's a big spill and we need to be better prepared and I talked about -- I talked about a lot of stuff.

I talked about not only physically prepared with containment and equipment, but also talked about being prepared what if there's no taxes because we can’t fish -- what if -- what are we gonna do?

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: How are we going to protect the fish -- the ranching -- the hatcheries in Prince William Sound. I talked -- so I gave people a lot of ideas for improvements.

Well, the next day March 24th I awake at seven a.m. to this bang, bang, bang on my door and I’m just like what could it be?

I’m way up at the top of this hill like there is no road. You had to physically hike the half a mile in --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: Yeah, major exertion and I fling open the door and there’s Jack Lamb, who is the Acting Director of Cordova District Fishermen United. I was just looking at him and he says we’ve had the big one.

And I just felt this jolt of adrenaline and I just stared past him over to -- out to Knowles Head in that direction and I just started getting all these ideas what we should do -- what we should do.

So Jack says okay how quickly can you get dressed? I said five minutes. You start a fire cause I thought I would be back. It was this log cabin.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: It was going to be cold by the time I got home. The fire had already burned out at night, right. You get up in the morning you light a fire.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: So Jack built a fire. I got dressed. I didn’t get home for two weeks. It was cold. And down we went.

I remember asking Jack cause I had a toboggan. I would toboggan down the hill. I asked him if he wanted to ride on the toboggan. He was like no I’m gonna walk.

So down we went. We got in the car and drove in the truck and drove into town and Marilyn Leland was already manning the phones that we had. They were just ringing, ringing, ringing and she told me already that there was news that the skipper -- there was rumor that he had had all these drinks.

And that he may be drunk which, of course, took a while to come out in the news, but I realized that somebody needed to fly to see so we're not just speculating and I thought that maybe Steve Rainey (phonetic) who was a local bush pilot would be flying.

So I called him up and he goes Riki -- you couldn’t have timed this better. He goes like the -- we’re just warming the plane. I said whose we? Chuck Monet, the sea otter biologist.

I’m like great, great, perfect. So I go tearing out to the little airport and we, you know, take off and we come around Knowles Head and there is this surreal scene where the sky -- the sunrise is starting to happen, it’s nine o’clock in the morning beautiful pink sunrise -- beautiful everything and there's this red stripe on the water which is three football fields long sitting inside this giant inky stain that is just being amoeba pulled different directions with the tide and there is this blue cloud that is off-gassing oil and, of course, we flew right into it.

We all got headaches. We got dizzy. I’m like -- all of a sudden my toxicology training is kicking in. I’m like oh, oh, we have to get out of this cloud.

So we flew the perimeter. We looked for marine mammals. That was what Chuck wanted to do until we had to go into Valdez to refuel.

But I remember thinking as we were flying over this -- this is just too much. This is too big. I knew what was going to happen as soon as the storm kicked in.

This was going to be all over our fishing grounds. I knew that the very last things that I had learned as a toxicologist was getting my Ph.D. what was just coming in was being able to measure -- to find in the blood biomarker for PAH exposure.

That was all just starting mid-1980’s to come out. Here it was 1989, Cytochrome P450 you could actually track this stuff. It is a long-term poison and I’m like --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: PAH's are found --

RIKI OTT: Oh, I’m sorry -- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Are found in --

RIKI OTT: In oil. It is the black stuff in oil. The blue stuff is evaporating. Those are the volatile organic compounds. They are also dissolving as the water soluble fraction.

That’s the benzene, toluene, ethylene, xylem, BTEX. They’re sometimes called, or VOC’s. The light ends.

The heavy ends are the PAH’s -- the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the black stuff and they go from everything from -- I mean one ring, one ring -- it’s a benzene ring. So benzene is the base of the VOC’s -- the volatiles.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: Carcinogen -- one of the oldest known carcinogens to humans and then two rings are basically hitched together and naphthalene and beyond that three to five ring configurations of these benzene rings are the PAH’s that are of most concern to humans it turns out, but we didn’t know that then.

All the studies and the science for the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act had been based on these VOC’s.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: The water soluble fracture -- the light stuff, not the heavy stuff.

So I’m looking at this mess.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: So can I ask you the heavy stuff is what ends up touching the fish as well then, right?

RIKI OTT: Right.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Cause you’re saying that --

RIKI OTT: That’s mostly --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: -- if the light stuff stuff flow or goes up then the heavy stuff is what, you know, the --

RIKI OTT: There's --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oceanic environment has to --

RIKI OTT: Deal with.
ALICIA ZORZETTO: Be exposed to --

RIKI OTT: So in oil it’s both. It’s -- so the black stuff turns out to be alkanes. Which are like candle wax and paraffin.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: They tend to be straight chain. They have a little hydrocarbon molecules all hitched together like cars on a train.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: And that can bend into a circle, but the trick is the difference is aromatic fraction is -- is a double bond molecule.

It is a double -- double bond as opposed to a single bond. Bacteria can eat the single bonds. They can break --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: -- that with fairly little energy, but the double bonds they have a harder time with. So once you start talking about benzene rings, it is more persistent in the environment and it gets more persistent when you add more rings.

So by the time you get up to three, four, five and beyond -- I mean asphalt is multiple.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: Okay. So at this point we’re talking about the stuff that persists in the environment the longest. That certainly was the thinking in 1989 and I’m just going okay I’m still in the plan thinking.

What can one person do? This is going to create a big mess. I could just get out of here. Sell the permit and leave. I didn’t have any family.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right, cause you know -- you know how bad this is.

RIKI OTT: I know this is going to be a disaster when this really -- when the wind takes this. Then I got to Valdez and they’re refueling plane and I’m inside -- of course instantly I went and called CDFU and there was only at the time one pillar with those pay phones. We didn’t have cell phones back then.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: And I mean the airport has transformed into this disaster zone. I mean people are coming in. They’re renting cars and I’m on the phone talking to CDFU and there is only four other -- three other phones on this pillar and the person like two phones over like peers around the pillar and he looks at me and he goes are you Riki Ott? Are you Dr. Ott?

And I’m like yeah and he goes I’m talking to CDFU. I’m like oh so I am and they’re like -- they’re telling me to talk to you. I go when I’m done, okay?

So I do this little report and then I get mobbed by the press and I just wasn’t trained for that and I’m sort of realizing oh, my God, what did I get myself into. Steve and Chuck wanted to fly again.

Steve Monet and Chuck or Steve Rainey and Chuck Monet wanted to fly again and they’re like do you want to come with us on one more run.

And I’m like yeah and so that’s when I went out on the tarmac and I like closed this crush of press and I’m thinking wow, you know, all of a sudden it hit me that I know enough to make a difference.

Do I care enough? And that’s when like it all went really, really quiet and not really -- I mean there's trucks and cars --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: For you --

RIKI OTT: -- and helicopters and I’m staring at the mountains and I’m just all of a sudden my life is flashing before my eyes. I thought that was a figure of speech, but it really happened.

And I saw how from a little kid I had made all these what I thought were random choices to put me in this place at this time with this knowledge and then it was like my dad do I step up or do I step back?

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: I mean my dad wasn’t a scientist. He just felt very passionate that DDT was not good for his kids. It was not good for the birds.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: What’s his legacy going to be? He's going to step up and try to fix it and I just had this sort of jumble of thoughts and I realized will -- all of a sudden just clarity I had a choice. I step up or I step back.

And it was like where else can I go that this won’t happen on some ocean somewhere on the planet. I love the ocean. I’m going to be on the ocean.

And all of a sudden I realized well I love more than that. I love my community of Cordova. I love my girlfriend Linda and her kids which became my godchildren and I’m like I have friends.

I have a community. I belong. I have -- I have a sense of place and I realize I’m in. And just like that I started hearing, it's like when you come out of meditation that little sound.

It turns out to be somebody banging on a drum to get your attention after 20 minutes is over or whatever, right. And that little sound that I heard happened to be a helicopter right over my head which was like deafening, right. But I had not heard it.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: From where I was and somebody told me like 10 years later that’s an epiphany. I’m like what? But anyway so I was in and things happened that I could not have planned.

I think when you find your path and you’re connected with -- I believe now that everybody is here for a purpose. Whether it’s to take care of their own children, work at the community -- at the family level.

Work on their own selves. Maybe it’s -- it is that simple from -- from what -- from whatever you've been through. You have to clean up your own self. Maybe it’s your family. Maybe it’s your community. Maybe it’s nation.

Maybe it’s international, but there is some thing whether you’re a janitor or, you know, the president that you -- you -- you -- unique you came in to do and when you find that path and you’re on it, it’s like a spiritual luge.

I don’t know how else to describe it, but things opened that I think wouldn’t have opened for you had this not happened and I can -- I’ll try to circle back to this point to give an example, but it is like four years before the example at this point.

So I’m in and I ended up doing a lot more testifying in congress because all those congress people that I had met in January were suddenly calling off the hook. Now this had happened, right.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: What I had just warned them about and so that summer was kind of an incredible jumble. The fishermen wanted me to work on policy and legislation and research to find out what were the best ideas that we could put into law.

Knowing that we would have a hiatus for the rest of the 1989 lobby season because the oil industry flat disappeared from Juneau in the rest of 1989.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, really. I didn’t know that.

RIKI OTT: Oh, yes. But they were back in full force in 1990 and so by let’s see so what’s -- I guess what’s important at this point is that the scientists came in and they told the fishermen and everybody not to worry that everything would be killed -- a lot of things -- a lot of things would be killed and it would look really bad, but oil only causes short-term harm.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: These are scientists --

RIKI OTT: This is NOAA. This is Exxon.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: NOAA. Okay. Okay.

RIKI OTT: This is every scientist and the fishermen were all coming to me going what? And all I could think of was well that must be the state of the science now, but, you know, it's like the world is flat.

Columbus sails around. Oh, a whole new body of science, but I didn’t really know what a paradigm shift looks like when you’re in the middle of one.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And it looks like you’re on marbles. It looks like no one knows who's on first. That's what it looks like.

So the scientists were all saying, ah, there shouldn’t be any long-term harm and the fishermen and the Native people said that doesn’t make any sense because the oil was literally three feet deep.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: In some of those bays.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Well and the fishermen and the Natives are the ones that know --

RIKI OTT: Go out --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: The environment, right. So they know these species. They see how they -- how they behave all the time so --

RIKI OTT: They were saying this can’t be because the nursery bays over on the west side of Prince William Sound are totally choked with oil. That oil's not going away and it didn’t.

It went down into the beaches and it proceeded to bleed off the next year and still to this day 25 years later there's oil in some of those heavily -- most heavily oiled beaches.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So the fishermen and the Native the collective intelligence, what I call ground truth or sound truth said we’re gonna wait. We are going to wait for the all clear until 1993.

We should get a little bit of a heads up in ’92 because the pink salmon that were juveniles in ’89, if any of them survive they’ll be adults in ’90 and then we’ll know if they had babies by ’92.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And then, you know, the eggs in ’89 well we got to wait until ’91 for them to come back as adults if any survive and then we got to wait until ’93 to see if those babies cause they’re two year fish.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And ’93 was also the year that everybody decided would be our all clear year or not was for herring cause it takes herring four years from when they’re egg to when they recruit as they go through all their juvenile four years they recruit into the adult spawning biomass.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: To reproduce, right.

RIKI OTT: In four years. So we thought by ’93 we’d -- we’d have a pretty clear picture. Well ’93 was like the worst --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: It was pretty clear --

RIKI OTT: -- year ever.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: It was a clear picture --

RIKI OTT: Oh, man. Our mayor committed suicide -- a former mayor Bobbie VanBrocklin.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And it’s like a total slap -- it’s like somebody takes a bucket of cold water on you, douses you with it. We’re all in this community. We’re all going through this together.

Yes, we had good fishing in 1990 and in 1991, but everybody figured it was because the fisheries was closed in ’89. And also everybody figured it was hatchery fish which we could prove with the otoliths. It wasn’t really the wild stocks.

So we knew what was goin on, but all the Exxon PR is coming out that, you know, oh there's record runs in Prince William Sound and, of course, the government scientists were holding all the cards like this because the natural resource damage assessment study hadn’t been decided until late in 1991.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: And the scientists took the year of 1992 -- the government scientists to write up their papers and so the science didn’t really come out until 1993 so there was like this four years with the national public wanting to know what’s happened in Prince William Sound and who is talking -- Exxon.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And Exxon is making it sound like, piece of cake. Big spill. We cleaned it up. We’re out of there and there is one other thing I should mention from the 1989.

I try not to call it a cleanup because it really wasn’t. It’s a spill response. I’ll give it that. I mean when you have people wiping rocks and then the tide comes in and oils the rocks all over again and Exxon says time to get off this beach go to the next one.

We’ll count that beach as treated. What? It is still oiled.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So there was all sorts of shenanigans going on.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: There's a lot -- a lot of individuals that spoke about --

RIKI OTT: Alright and then there was also these experimental chemicals -- dispersants and I’m just like oh, my God I hope they’ve got something different than I used in Malta, but then you read the labels of these things.

You read the material safety data sheets and it is like this horror list of if it spills accidentally contain it. Don’t let it get into the water courses and I’m like Prince William Sound is a water course and they’re spraying this.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: And then this worst there was this experimental compound Interpol that was supposedly a bioremediation compound, but I look at the ingredients and it's got 2-butoxyethanol in it which is the same as Corexit 9527 and I’m like what? You know, there is a mistake here. It is mislabeled.

They’re using -- they want to spray the beaches so they know that dispersants are not good on beaches so they’re calling it bioremediation instead of a dispersant. That's gotta be what is going on.

It was just like this whole nightmare. It was like one thing after another, but the other thing that happened was fishermen -- there was a -- a block of fishermen that -- of the fleet that was out working on the spill response that came in when the fishing opened -- the salmon fishery opened in -- on the Copper River Flats so mid-May.

Those fishermen came in and they called me. They said they’re sick. I’m like what do you mean you’re sick? Well I’ve got this cough. My eyes -- I came back to refuel like into Valdez and back out and when I would be -- take a day off or so I would -- it would clear up.

The symptoms would clear up. I’d get back out on the oil again and I have this cough. I have this rash -- this red rash and I’m like -- so I called up the doctor in town Armold -- Larry Armold (phonetic), who has unfortunately died now and I said Larry, from what I’ve learned in school this is not like breaking a bone or, you know, treating somebody for a broken -- the flu or -- this is actually chemical illness and it's a specialty so you really ought to get some specialty doctors in here looking at this.

Well that didn’t happen and I assumed it would because surely doctors -- I mean I heard enough of this that people had this that surely doctors would be treating these people. No. That became labeled the Valdez Crud.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Hum.

RIKI OTT: Cold and flu-like symptoms don’t you know and I’m a marine biologist. I was focused on the ecosystem and I stayed focused on the ecosystem and so now we’re gonna start spooling forward a little bit and there was a -- the government accountability project. How their first whistleblower conference and I think it was ’92.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: It's definitely captured in my book “Not One Drop” and that is why I wrote this book so I wouldn’t have to remember all this.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay. We’ll have links to that --

RIKI OTT: The book is accurate. So that again I was the -- I was the only public person at a whistleblower conference -- what’s that?

It turns out it's all EPA and federal agencies who are -- whose work is being squashed so they're reporting a problem and the higher politics intervenes and says we don’t want to hear it that way.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- we don’t want to hear that it’s bad for the caribou and bad for the ecosystem up there. We’re going to squash that report and that, in fact, was what happening.

So, for example -- so and Dan Lawn had been invited and he was the only non-federal --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: These were all federal level whistleblowers. I mean I was in a state of shock listening to our -- how our taxpaying dollars were not being used to safeguard public health -- worker safety and the environment.

I was just shocked and I was talking about what I had heard about sick people, but mostly I was talking about sick wildlife and -- cause this was still before the science really came out.

And somebody stood up in the audience and said just point blank was a person who had worked on the cleanup and challenged me. They were sick. They were going to see a treating doctor down in Texas what was I going to do about it?

I was like, geez, I don’t know. Well that story broke in the news I did find out who that treating doctor was -- Dr. Rae down in Environmental Health Clinic, Dallas and he actually had a stream of whistle -- of not whistleblowers, but sick Exxon Valdez workers down there and I didn’t make contact with him until a little bit later after.

So-- so -- so the story broke in the news that some of the workers had filed toxic torts so those are lawsuits where you think that you were harmed by an activity -- a work-related activity.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: So let’s put that aside for the moment and just say that -- that -- that broke in the news and then it kind of all went quiet. Why? Because these lawsuits drag on --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: For a while and it's all behind closed doors. So what happened was 1993 the fish runs totally collapsed. So we’re back to 1993 again. Our mayor committed suicide.

That woke the whole town up because we thought we were in this mess together and suddenly one of us commits suicide? That’s not a choice the others of us wanted to make.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right. A leader --

RIKI OTT: A leader committed suicide. Somebody we all looked up to and so that made people sort of take responsibility for their own lives.

We’d sort of thought we were all collectively in this together and we were all just sort of bumbling along and nobody was really -- we weren’t helping ourselves.

Exxon promised to make us whole. We were waiting for Exxon to make us whole.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: You were waiting -- uh-huh, as a group.

RIKI OTT: As a group, okay, we’re going to be taken care of. We’ll just wait. So the mayor commits suicide. So everybody is like uh-oh, oh and then the fish runs collapse and I got -- I’m sitting in my office in Cordova and I get a phone call from Jim Gray.

And he tells me the entire seine fleet all hundred boats are in Chenega. They just had a seine meeting. There is nothing in Prince William Sound. It is a dead zone and the fishermen wanted to -- they had all agreed and it was Bill Weber, Sr., that had -- they had decided they needed to take some action.

Bill Weber, Sr., was very much viewed as a leader and very well respected. They were all sitting around discussing what they needed to do and they came up with this idea of well maybe we as a fleet need to escort a tanker in to Port Valdez to make a statement.

They are discussing the pros and cons and Bill Weber, Sr., finally said why wouldn’t we do this? And everybody looked at Bill because he was like the calmest guy in the group and they all went --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: Okay. And it was unanimous. So Bill -- Jim calls me. We're all -- we’ve all decided to do this so we want you to find out when the next Exxon tanker is due in to Port Valdez. Alert the media. Alert the town. Make banners for us. Get them over to us. We want banners for our boats.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: That we're doing a protest and bring the media to us and otherwise stay out of it because you’ve been our spokesperson for all these years. The media knows you’re mad at Exxon, but we want the media to know we’re all mad.

Can we do that? I’m like of course. So I find out that three days is the next tanker due in -- Exxon -- Exxon tanker -- was it three days or two? It was tight. It was tight.

The guys had to battle a storm. There was a big August storm that came up and they battled the storm through the night to get there in time for this tanker.

I -- I had like 48 hours. I called the places in town. By this point we had it all down. You called the city. You call the aquaculture -- Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation.

You called the Science Center and everybody starts churning out media releases for the -- for the press and then I grabbed a crew of people from the street and let it known that we were going to making banners at X time.

And we had these big Tyvek sheets -- well actually we had -- I’m trying to think if this is the time -- I think -- I think this is the time we used Tyvek sheets. One of the times we used sheets from reluctant fishermen. They gave us their old sheets and we sewed them together and we painted, but this time I think we had Tyvek sheets and we had a team thinking of slogans.

That we could put on, you know, bankruptcy -- compensation not bankruptcy. The Sound's a dead zone and anyway there were all kinds of signs and gave them to the gillnet fleet who was now informed that this was going on. So we used our little boats to run the media port into Cordova.

We used our little boats to get them out to the -- the -- the seine fleet.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: And what happened was the guys really had intended to escort a tanker. It was the media -- oh, and women and children were out too and so it was the town -- a good representation of the town of Cordova on these 100 boats. No Exxon tanker showed up as per the schedule.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, oh.

RIKI OTT: Yeah, oh, oh, and so I called Rick Steiner and Rick Steiner had better connections at the Alyeska Terminal than me and Rick Steiner discovered that they were waiting out -- Mike Williams told him the storm. Rick Steiner said what storm? It has laid down and Mike Williams said the political storm.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh.

RIKI OTT: So ultimately there were tankers doing loops in the Gulf of Alaska.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: Yeah. So --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Because they didn’t want to hit the media.

RIKI OTT: Because they knew the cameras -- the media cameras were on the boat and it wasn’t a blockade. This is the thing. The guys were really going to escort a tank -- an Exxon tanker.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: But this is in reference to what people now call the blockade.

RIKI OTT: Well, what happened was the media was getting impatient. We’re out here for a story. There’s no story happening. The fleet doing donuts in the gulf gets impatient, so they decided to bring a BP tanker in.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: We weren’t targeting BP. We were targeting Exxon. So BP has a helicopter overhead. Kelley Wearverling (phonetic) and I are at the CDFU office on CB radio monitoring what’s going on because I was staying out of it.

And so we’re just hovering here and this BP helicopter -- there’s the Coast Guard helicopter. There’s the BP tanker coming.

There’s Stan Stephens in his cruise ship trying to weave through this morass of fishermen to take his charter boat over to the glacier.

No, he was enroute out to the glacier and here comes this tanker and the media was like couldn’t you just line up for a photo op?

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yes.

RIKI OTT: Yes. So the guys all lined up and they all felt a collective change.

They all felt a sense of empowerment when they did that. And they all individually knew that they were not budging at that point.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: And so suddenly, you know, this morass of fishermen suddenly -- is aligned -- that's blockading the tanker.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Now they create the blockade. Wow.

RIKI OTT: Right, right. The Coast Guard helicopter is ordering Jim Gray to -- his -- to disband his fleet. Disband your fleet. The guys all keyed their mics so they couldn’t hear the Coast Guard.

And Jim Gray said Captain I have lost control of my fleet.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: And at that point Stan Stephens is behind this blockade all of a sudden. All of a sudden like in the wink of an eye there is a blockade, right?

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: And so -- he's behind it and he can see this tanker coming, you know, and everybody is like there is this totally tense moment and all of a sudden this tanker without tugs starts to escort -- execute a 180 degree turn in Prince William Sound.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: And the profile of the tanker started to change.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: And on Stan Stephens’ boat the way he told me the story was his -- all these people -- a 100 people from outside Alaska all cheered and Stan burst into tears because --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Really, oh, so --

RIKI OTT: Yeah.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: And for those that don’t know Stan -- Stan had a cruise ship.

RIKI OTT: He owned -- he operated the largest family owned cruise ship operations in Alaska.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And it was a -- yeah --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: So that’s why he had all these non-Alaskans.

RIKI OTT: Non-Alaskans and they couldn’t believe they were in the middle of this drama, you know, all these people.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: That's unbelievable. So the blockade wasn’t preplanned the way that you think --

RIKI OTT: No.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: It would be.

RIKI OTT: Uh-uh. It was the media that egged us on.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: I will tell you that the media has egged -- well us on to other things as well. That have all turned out to be good things in the end, but it is like this was not our plan.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.
RIKI OTT: So --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: The -- the -- what happened was three days that fleet held -- the fleet held the blockade for three days and that was 25% of our nation’s domestic oil. By the time it was all -- the end of the third day nine tankers were doing donuts in the gulf at $10,000 an hour, yeah.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: Yeah, this was a big deal and the -- President Clinton had ordered the gun boats up from Seattle, but we knew -- the fishermen knew that it would take four days for the boats.

The armed gunboats and so we were in our third day and President Clinton had by now found out that this is women and children, blockading because the fisheries has collapsed and there's gunboats coming up and this is totally not going to be a good thing.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So he diverted Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt who happened to be up on the North Slope down to Valdez to meet with that bunch of fishermen to find out what this is a quote -- find out what that bunch of fishermen wanted.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So Babbitt brought his little flock of media with him. Hickel -- Governor Hickel with his cabinet flew up from Juneau, stopped in Cordova to see if the town was in solidarity.

Politicians are always looking for a weak link. With the fishing fleet had an emergency meeting with the remnants of town, that was still there.

We said -- these are -- we now had three demands. These were our three demands. We are in complete solidarity.

They flew out to Valdez big meeting and Rick Steiner and David Grimes heard Governor Hickel say to his -- one of his aide that when he understood the situation if I was a fisherman I probably would be out there too.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: Which was pretty wild?

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: Yeah. So, what the fishermen wanted were three things. They wanted studies to prove that they were right. Well, not to prove that they were right. They wanted studies to find out what had caused the fish collapse in Prince William Sound knowing that they felt pretty sure they knew it was the oil.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So that was one and you can imagine Interior Secretary Babbitt a bunch of fishermen and they want science.

You know, that was like not what he was expecting at all. They wanted no fines for civil disobedience cause it was $10,000 a piece and the fishermen had no money. I mean the income --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: Just dropped to nothing and then the third thing was and this is the thing that was on the state. The fishermen wanted debt forgiveness for their fishing permits for that year and every year that they couldn’t fish.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Because their debt was pretty --

RIKI OTT: Well their debt --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Significant.

RIKI OTT: The fishing permits are limited entry fishing permits. And some of these permits were $300,000.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And you owed about $30,000 a year -- like a home. You owed a one year payment to the state and the next year you’d pay again. And the fishermen had no way to pay if the fishery was closed.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So in the end we got two of the three and it was the third thing that really almost killed the town. The third thing we didn’t get the state reneged.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh.

RIKI OTT: Hickel promised that forgiveness and I found out when I wrote Sound Truth and Corporate Myths and I interviewed people at the CFAB -- the Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank, that the problem was just like what collapsed the country’s economy in Fall of 2008 the Wall Street which was our fishing permit the state had leveraged them out and maximized debt thinking that there would be a really good fishing season.

And when it collapsed and we couldn’t pay the debt, the danger was if the debt was forgiven we could collapse the economy of the state of Alaska.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Hum.

RIKI OTT: So the fishermen were hung out to dry.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: Because of the state couldn’t -- didn’t want to collapse the state’s economy. It’s like great, but I didn’t find that out until years later.

We didn’t get fined and Alyeska was really mad about that because they thought this would set precedent and guys would be blockading Valdez Narrows left and right. Well, no, you know, that -- we had a problem.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: We had no media -- a different president and we felt the fisherman was connected to the oil spill.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: Despite all of Exxon’s glossy papers saying otherwise. So we got the studies and those -- that is really where the scientists stepped out of the lab.

I mean a lot of when I was in graduate school I mean I was one of those scientists who did the studies in the lab and you try to figure out, you know, you have beakers and you put animals in the beakers and how many live, how many die after 96 hours or in my tests were 10 days cause I was using sediment bioassays and, you know, pretty rudimentary and then you divide this number that kills half of the animals by hundred and you say that that’s safe for the environment.

It’s a wag -- a wild ass guess. Okay, but coming from the mouth of a scientist it sounds pretty official right?

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: But it was still in our circle of scientists it was called a wag, right?

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Hum.

RIKI OTT: It was the best science we could do at the time. Well what we wanted was look the ecosystem collapsed so the scientists actually got out and tried --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Study the ecosystem --

RIKI OTT: To look and see what was going on in the field and then mimic that in the lab.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And so the guys all came back from this blockade -- all the townspeople who were out there. They were just high. They were high that they were empowered.

You know, they had this sense that I can do it and that’s the winter that there was a zillion either nonprofits formed or different projects of already existing nonprofits to take care of problems.

That was the year that we stopped believing that we would wait till -- for Exxon to make us whole.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: You started doing yourself.

RIKI OTT: We weren’t even in court at that time. We didn’t even go to court until ’94 and so that’s when, for example, the Native village of Eyak did the sobriety celebration.

Because part of the problem was with this spill was emotional trauma and behavioral, you know, problems and drinking had started up again and that was a bad thing and now sobriety celebration is a statewide event and Natives come from all over the state to Cordova for sobriety celebration once a year.

I think it is in the fall now. The Family Resource Center got started in Cordova to deal with the children -- the trauma to the children which had been recognized and the domestic violence and the substance abuse and, you know, the divorce rate had skyrocketed and all these problems that -- that were being studied by Steve Picou -- Dr. Steve Picou and Dr. Duane Gill.

Cordova became a case study on disaster trauma. What breaks in a community? How do you fix it? Well -- but behind the scenes Steve Picou and I are like having -- I mean Picou talked to a lot of people in town not just me, but with me he would be like what are you seeing, you know, and I would say all these nonprofit groups and meanwhile the Peer Listening Program is about people getting together -- ordinary people.

Talking and sharing and figuring out where's our common ground. Where do we want to -- how do we want to create our new reality? What does reality look for -- look right now?

And then agree to a set of actions and that's what was happening all over town with these different nonprofit. The -- okay when the science -- when the fishermen demanded studies, the fishermen didn’t just leave it to the scientists.

That was the creation of the SEA Program -- Sound Ecosystem Assessment. There were meetings all fall -- of the meeting season right?

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: ’93, ’94. How the SEA Program would be conducted with -- for herring and pink salmon. We weren’t going to leave it to the scientists. The scientists we felt didn’t know the sound like we did.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: It was not only fishermen it was Native people coming to these scientific meetings. It was incredible. That’s why Torey Baker in Cordova went on to get her Masters because she -- she was -- got so -- I mean science that’s why I became a scientist.

It can be fun. When you look at it as like I started to recognize it not doing science for the sake of science but doing science for the sake of educating people -- educating the masses so that the collective intel goes up.

And we can learn from this. I mean that’s the whole DDT thing was about. When enough people realize that DDT was bad for people as well they demanded DDT stop.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: Right. Well so here oil is bad maybe, you know. So let’s study it. Let’s figure out what happens so the papers that came out of that -- maybe I should just stop a second -- do you need to change -- check the -- it might be good?

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Well I think we’re -- let me check just in case. I think we’re good. You’ve got about like 20 minutes left. Nope, we're doing awesome.

RIKI OTT: Okay. Okay. You’re very trusting leaving your camera.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: I’ve done it before. So, I’ve used this camera many times.

RIKI OTT: So -- so now we can kind of fast forward because what happened was I -- these ecosystem studies there were still sea otter biologists talking to sea otter biologists or mammal biologists and bird biologists talking to bird biologists and they were always sort of random pieces to this puzzle and I thought my God is everybody -- when is everybody going to get the pieces together.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And look at the puzzle and it wasn’t happening. So I contact Environmental Defense Fund which is the group that sued on behalf of my father over DDT --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So I knew those guys. I said look I can -- I can -- there needs to be -- I got funding to bring 14 PI’s -- principal investigators together -- the bird, the fish, the mammal, this coastal ecologist, the chemist together to talk about what they’re all finding.

I wanted a briefing paper for congress. I wanted a four page paper. They all thought this was a great idea.

I will never forget our very first teleconference. So here I am with all these high power scientists and me and I’m like I’m chairing this and I'm like, oh man, so I said so Pete Peterson the coastal ecologist who was dealing the eelgrass collapses repeatedly because the high pressure hot water wash in hindsight turned out it polished all the rocks completely clean and the eelgrass when they come to repopulate in an area they couldn’t repopulate on these smooth rocks.

They needed the old hold fast. They needed the old barnacles and so they die.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: And then the ones that did get a hold they -- they die every four years so in four years they died and then they were all smooth rocks again. So it was actually taking longer for the area to be -- the areas that were treated with the hot -- with the high pressure wash.

Then the areas that had not been treated to recover.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So I mean all these studies came out, you know, and Pete Peterson asked Jeff Short, who was the chemist, what is a PAH?

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: And I was just like -- that’s why I wrote this --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: He asked -- oh, he asked that that’s like a --

RIKI OTT: He didn’t know.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: He wasn’t actually --
RIKI OTT: He was doing --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh.

RIKI OTT: He was doing different studies.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh.

RIKI OTT: And I was just on the phone going thank God I wrote for this grant because this is why all these scientists need to understand this --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: That’s it all connected and that’s what happened. They wrote this beautiful 14 page paper and I’m like, ah, guys, congress doesn’t have that kind of patience.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: Can you get it to four pages? So they were so thrilled with what they wrote that they said Riki you have to keep this a secret until we get it published because Exxon at this point was creaming everybody in the media that disagreed with them.

Professionally the scientists that disagreed with Exxon.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Well and they would also, I know historically they bought out certain --

RIKI OTT: Oh, God.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: You know reports and whatnot. They would buy them, to make them proprietary and --

RIKI OTT: Okay, so we’ll get to that cause I skipped -- I skipped that cause I went over that. That’s another important point I should cover 1993 better.

So -- cause I’m years ahead now, oops, I’m up to when the scientists had done their studies and nobody was piecing them together.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And I said okay I can keep it a secret. They got the four pager done for me and I took that to congress. That 14 page paper became the science -- it was published in Science in December 2003.

And it was the paradigm shift in the field of oil eco toxicology --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Huh.

RIKI OTT: And it totally took Exxon by surprise and they had to scramble and rebut and rebut and -- but it was different.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: It was too late.

RIKI OTT: It was out. It was too late.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah, it was published.

RIKI OTT: It was out, so that’s how that happened. But meanwhile let’s go back to 1993.

So the civil settlement for damage assessment had -- had happened in October I think of 1991. And the scientists -- the government scientists state and federal were writing their papers and here’s where the spiritual luge comes in or part of it is.

Because on the pink salmon studies what the scientists were realizing was that the oil instead of the killing peaking in 1989 on the beaches, the harm to the eggs that were buried in the beaches kept getting higher percentage of the buried total number of eggs.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: Every year and instead of being a little ribbon on the beach like this it started to spread out so there was more harm over a bigger portion of the beach with time.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: I see.

RIKI OTT: Which didn’t make any sense to the scientists. So here we are in a paradigm shift. This is like literally problem solving. Why are we seeing that? What could be the theories and then test each theory till you get the right one.

So the theory was that in the salmon streams they’re a groove on the beaches so they’re a little bit lower than the beach sub trait. And that the eggs are in this sort of the lower areas and so when high tide comes in and floods the whole beach, the oil is being lifted out of the areas where the oil reservoirs are.

In the salmon streams, the oil had pretty much been kept out because the streams were always flowing out.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Out, right.

RIKI OTT: But when the flood tide came in, it kind of shmeared the oil everywhere.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: And what the scientists realized was in order to prove or disprove this theory that the shmear effect of the flood tide had contaminated the intertidal streams and the fish -- the redds -- the salmon nests they needed hundreds of samples.

They needed them taken on the stream banks to document --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Compare all -- yeah.

RIKI OTT: Before the spill, during the spill, where was the most contaminated part over the years.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And they had just the -- this -- the federal scientists had just realized that they didn’t have those samples.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: When the phone rang and the phone was the state biologist because the NRDA --Natural Resource Damage Assessment Studies had happened. They -- the state biologist had gone and taken hundreds of samples in the salmon spawning streams because that was their jurisdiction.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: When?

RIKI OTT: ’89, ’90, ’91 --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, no.

RIKI OTT: ’92 and because of the settlement they were cleaning out their freezer and they had literally --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: Thrown all these samples on pallets. They were at -- in Anchorage at the -- they were not -- had not flown them. They were in Anchorage in the freezers, custody -- chain of custody all sealed. They had taken them to the dump.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh.

RIKI OTT: It was January and didn’t it occur to the state biologist maybe did the federal biologist want those samples and the federal biologist hopped on the plane, flew to Anchorage, got to the dump, chain of custody -- everything was not broken --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh.

RIKI OTT: And it was still all frozen cause it was January.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: They rescued all the samples. That’s what I mean about --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Unbelievable.

RIKI OTT: Right.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: That’s wild.

RIKI OTT: Right. So they were able to prove this in hindsight that this theory is what happened.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: Yeah. So that’s the kind of stuff that just kind of happened along the way, but meanwhile that had not quite happened yet, okay, I mean yes, the samples had been rescued, but what happened --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: The information had --

RIKI OTT: The information -- the studies hadn’t been conducted. So what had happened was the public was clamoring to know what had happened during the spill. And the Trustee Councils held their first conference in January of 1993.

Based on the studies that had been conducted up to that point and invited the Exxon scientists -- had invited everybody to come and present. The Exxon scientists said they weren’t ready yet.

So a handful of people -- ordinary people, not scientists, people from Cordova. I remember Michael O’Leary. I remember others -- Michelle O’Leary had come to this to try to understand the science and I remember Exxon scientists everywhere and they were filming all the sessions. They were talking --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: To the media and they were saying -- they were combating all that was being told but without any science.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: Behind them and this is 1993 and what they really doing was preparing for the lawsuit -- getting their arguments. Getting all the information they could and I remember looking at one point in the -- when these charts and graphs were coming up of the smear -- well, actually the smear effect because -- but they didn’t understand it.

What was -- what they were showing was that more pink salmon had been dying instead of less -- the eggs and they didn’t understand why and I remember the fishermen group that -- I was sitting up front taking notes cause I understand this stuff and I remember looking at the back of the room, you know, and seeing all my friends back there.

They looked like a little herd of musk oxen and I realized that they were not totally not comfortable in this group of scientists. You know and they were desperately trying to understand what would impact their livelihoods.

I mean I just really felt this gut level, you know, pull and I realized that I needed -- I did fish through 1993, but there was nothing to fish and that’s when I said I sold my half of the boat and permit to my partner and said I got to piece this together.

I got to work on this. I got to make it presentable in a way that people can understand it.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And so then I wrote Sound Truth, but I didn’t get around to that until starting it in 1998. It wasn’t out to 19 -- 2004 cause I didn’t know how to write a book. That was another whole story, but in the meanwhile I had heard all these stories of sick people.

So here I am putting the story together of sick wildlife and I kind of had that story altogether so what I did I circled back to the toxic tort cases that had been filed in Anchorage and I went and I reviewed them and I got the names and phone numbers of these clinics and stuff and in 1999 I had managed to get myself arrested in Dallas.

Patience Anderson-Faulkner and I were sent as delegates to the merger -- a proposed merger of Exxon and Mobil. And the whole community of Cordova was like what? Exxon hasn’t paid us yet. This is going to create an even worse monster.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: To fight. You two go down -- Patience went to the Mobil meeting. I went to the Exxon meeting. I had a little letter that the community had approved arguing our point.

Please pay us before you merge essentially, right? And I had even got a letter from one of the Rockefeller grandchildren Standard Oil Trust, you know, saying, you know, this is incomprehensible. This is not humane. We need to pay our debts before we merge.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: I mean two or three sentences and so I was going to hand those out at the Exxon meeting and Patience was going to hand them out at the Mobil meeting and we were going to get back together again. It didn’t quite work that way and there was all this -- I -- Patience shut down the Mobil meeting turns out in hindsight.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Really.

RIKI OTT: By asking at the end, well what about this debt because it was five billion dollars, you know, outstanding.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.
RIKI OTT: In punitive damages. And they got so flustered they actually forgot to officially shut down that meeting. They were like shutting down the mics.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, wow.

RIKI OTT: So but I didn’t know that. I’m at the Ex -- and Patience had her papers taken away from her -- all the handouts she was going to do. I managed to get into the Exxon. I had a proxy.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Hum.

RIKI OTT: From a shareholder and I spoke my three minutes. Nine hundred people -- an enormous room -- Lee Raymond up at the top with Exxon in big letters on this blue field and when you looked away you still saw Exxon. It was like seared in your brain.

And I got to speak my three minutes about please pay us and Lee Raymond thunders down from his podium. Now, Riki, not Dr. Ott. I mean how did he know my name, you know.

Now, Riki, we are entitled to our day in court and all the shareholders and I realize they don’t know. These are snowy white shareholders that had been with Exxon all this time. They’re reading the Lamp -- the Exxon’s publication. The Lamp looks pretty good.

Everything is recovered. Sea otters thriving. Water quality fine. What do they know? So I said -- I asked for permission to pass out the papers and the security told me pass them out outside the door when people were leaving.

So I announced I would be passing our letters if anybody wanted to know the community of Cordova’s position I had this very brief letter. And so I get outside the door and I’m passing them out and the next thing I know there's a security cop in my face -- Exxon -- saying, "What are you doing here?"

I’m like, "I’m passing out these papers." "You can’t do that." "Yes, I can. The security guard inside said I could." "Well, I’m saying you can’t." He’s totally in my face and I’m just standing up to him. And I’m still passing the letters out.

And finally he goes -- he steps back cause I -- it wasn’t working. I was standing there still and he goes, "May I have one?" I’m like, "Of course."

So I handed him one and he disappears to find a security guard that had given me permission. Well, I know he didn’t get all the way up front because he turned around and he came back and what he had read was the Rockefeller thing talking about it was incomprehensible.

Anyway and he just gets in my face again. "You can’t do this." And I’m like, "I was given permission." He goes -- he thinks a minute and he goes look go outside the hotel and I was like great. I’d rather be outside the hotel anyway.

It’s nice weather, you know, it’s -- I’d rather be outside. I didn’t know that Exxon when you rent a room in a hotel you’re responsible for what happens there. But the hotel is hotel property. And so what he did was he shifted me to property where I did not have permission.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: I see.

RIKI OTT: I didn’t. Hence, the next thing I know is the hotel security is in my face --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, no.

RIKI OTT: Telling me, no I can’t do this and I’m like I got permission from the guard inside. Well, so the guard said prove it. So we went in and the Exxon guard said, "I don’t remember." He lied and that was it. Something snapped inside of me and I just went I’m passing these out.

So I -- I repeated this scenario three times to this Exxon guy and he finally goes "Okay, all right, I did give you permission."

And I said to the hotel -- cause I didn’t want the hotel guy to think I was lying and the hotel guy he didn’t hear it. He was like totally distracted at that point cause we had been arguing, arguing, arguing for about ten minutes.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So he escorts me back out to where my papers are and I pick up my papers and I turn around and I start passing them out again. This is in Dallas. His face -- he couldn’t believe it. Apparently they’re not used to uppity women in Dallas.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: In Dallas.

RIKI OTT: And his jaw just dropped and he goes I told you you couldn’t do that. And I said I told you I had permission.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Good for you.

RIKI OTT: The next thing I know sheriffs. Arrested.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh, my gosh.

RIKI OTT: And the sheriffs are trying to convince me you don’t want to go to jail in Dallas County. This is like the worse jail. I’m dressed -- I have a dress on. I have -- you know, so I have this whole 12 hours in jail. And that’s a whole 'nother story, but the gist of it is that I learned a lot then because here I am -- I knew I had one call.

I couldn’t call my friends in Alaska it turns out on my calling card, but that’s a whole 'nother story. So I was making all these phone calls and leaving messages and I wasn’t getting through to anybody because my card wasn’t going through.

So all these messages -- you have a call from an inmate in a Dallas County jail. Including my father and my sister, everybody.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: No one's answering.

RIKI OTT: It's like, why are all my friends and family gone? But anyway there were about 30 women in the jail when I first got there and I will say they were all black which is important only because here are all these black women.

I was -- thought -- there was like this moment of silence and one of them said what did you do to get here? I was like oh. They’re black because the white ones started coming in later.

I’ll explain the story. There is like this whole daily pulse of who gets arrested it turns out.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Really.

RIKI OTT: These are all poor black working women who were maybe the cops once they get all their night chores done go and harass. Maybe they have dirty track infections so they've somehow violated their parole.

So if the cops have time after their night rounds, they’ll go harass the poor black working women.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: Yeah. So here’s this sea of woman and I’m like how do I explain this here. I had just been with some of the richest people in the world at the Exxon shareholder meeting and now I’m presumably with some of the poorest.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Hum.

RIKI OTT: So I did some quick thinking and I was like well does anybody remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill? Whoa they all started talking to each other and they all started nodding their heads and then they all snapped back to me and they were like yeah we remember, but that was a long time ago, what are you doing here now?

And so I explained and they got it and they all started explaining to me you fell for one of the oldest tricks, you know. They explained what had happened.

They were like I’ve got a cousin who's lawyer he can help you and I was like wow what can I do to repay these women.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Hum.

RIKI OTT: To thank them and then I realized my circumstances were far less dire than theirs and the best I could do was cause everybody took a turn crying at some point during the day -- was I could take them away to Alaska and I could tell stories.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Hum.

RIKI OTT: And that’s what I did. And women would lie down -- they would put their head in my lap and I would tell stories of bears, of fishing, of eagles, just to take them away for a little while --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: From their --

RIKI OTT: From their circumstances.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: It was the most amazing thing. Then mid-afternoon come the white hookers -- the cheap white hookers. Then later -- this is from 12 noon to 12 midnight.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Huh.

RIKI OTT: Bout nine o’clock at night later come the expensive white hookers. It was quite something and when I got out -- oh because they didn’t who I was, right?

So Patience -- I didn’t show up at the pre-designated point.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: Right and so Patience is like the lawyer’s team that was there was like is Riki a timely person? Patience is like no, no, she’s not timely. Well I tried to be a lot more on time after that.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah.

RIKI OTT: So finally they figure out where I am. Finally Patience gets me out and it’s like midnight and they all -- all the women knew that I wasn’t going to be in there and they were like don’t forget us -- don’t forget us and I haven’t.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: But anyway there is Patience and it’s a full moon and I’m like dumped out of jail and I don’t know whose going to be there to meet me and there’s Patience.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Hum.

RIKI OTT: You know and we looked at each other. We gave each other a big hug and we backed up and we looked at each other and I said I only got .5% of the vote, what did you get? She goes not much better.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Oh.

RIKI OTT: Because the shareholder vote to merge --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: We got totally -- nobody cared about Cordova.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So anyway we spent half a night sharing stories of what was happening inside the jail -- outside the jail, but anyway so I’m sorry I skipped to 1999, so back in 1993 after January -- okay, you’re going to have to splice this or something.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Yeah, I was gonna say you’ve got about like probably five minutes left.

RIKI OTT: Oh, no, I’m not even done with stories -- okay, so okay, so we got to finish this one because in 1993 after the January science. In Alaska, Exxon bought the American Testing and Methodo -- AS -- Standards in Methodologies Conference -- they bought it.

It was in Atlanta, Georgia, home of CNN. And that’s where Exxon wanted to present its science, right.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Its science to --

RIKI OTT: The media.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: To Alaska?

RIKI OTT: To say that everything was fine. No, they weren’t interested in Alaska. They were interested in the media story.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Okay.

RIKI OTT: Alaska was interested in Alaska.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So this was a total media and political play that Exxon did and they literally bought up an entire scientific conference.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: And they had all brought their own scientists at this point so all the scientific -- I hadn’t read any of the papers at this point cause I didn’t have any, but this can’t be a good thing because we were --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: No.

RIKI OTT: Getting ready to go for court, right and so the lawyers were freaking out and they were like what can we do? What can we do? And they said Riki can you get a team of people to go to Atlanta?

I’m like sure you paying? They’re like yes. So I found six of us -- Dune Lankard, Mayor Kelley Wearverling, so we were ASTM for ASTM conference.

We were -- we had a ball. So we -- at this conference we -- turns out there were massive amounts of media. There were massive amounts of federal government and state government and there was Exxon and there was like no public.

We were like it -- pretty much the six of us and we walk into this conference and Kelley Wearverling -- to register -- Kelley Wearverling immediately -- he’s a Vietnam Vet he keys in on all the cops.

These were off duty cops that Exxon had hired to keep the order -- at a scientific conference. So I ignored them. I hadn’t done anything wrong and I was up registering.

Well Kelley went over to talk to the cops and the cops said -- Kelley said isn’t it a little unusual to have police at a scientific conference and the police said oh, we’re expecting trouble from Alaska and Kelley said really well allow me to introduce myself.

He is dressed in a three-piece suit, his pony tail pulled back. He says I’m the Mayor of Cordova, Alaska. The cop doesn’t know it’s 2,500 people in a bush community in Alaska.

The mayor sounds pretty important. So the cop says oh, well, have you heard of Riki Ott and Kelley says that’s my good friend she’s over there registering and the cop said we heard -- we heard she was going to shoot off something.

And Kelley said the only thing she is going to shoot off is her mouth and the cop said well we protect that. That’s a First Amendment right.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Huh.

RIKI OTT: Well, this conference starts going and I’m challenging, challenging, challenging and there's two cops on the door all the time. I’m just talking First Amendment. I’m talking -- I’m just talking, you know.

I’m whispering to Dune where the weaknesses are in the -- in the studies with the Native studies that the fish is all safe to eat. I’m whispering to Lisa Rotterman.

I’m whispering -- come on you guys, you know. So pretty soon all of us are like challenging left and right, right? And at one point the Hans Yans (phonetic) who is a German, first generation. He has a very thick accent turns out BP has done studies that Americans are more likely to believe people if they have a foreign accent.

So Exxon had made a point of hiring Hans Yans, yes and Hans Yans had a theorem that -- which he said on stage that oil cannot be both -- in a very snobby, aristocratic -- oil cannot be both bio available and long lasting.

Meaning that if it was bio available the animals would be eating it. If it was long lasting that means it would be inert. It would be -- the animals couldn’t get it.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: So it -- so one or the other. It had to be one or the other and I said I have a theorem too. Oh, well what’s my theorem?

The more money what scientists take from Exxon the more likely they are to conclude that everything's fine in Prince William Sound. Pandemonium.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Really.

RIKI OTT: The Exxon moderator at the front is pounding on his podium and he's not looking at me. He is looking at the door and I thought that was really weird. Then I realized oh that’s where the cops are. So I looked over -- they saw me stand up -- they left the room.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Wow.

RIKI OTT: So I -- the podium -- the Exxon moderator’s banging for order and he says truth rules the day -- oh, no, he said courtesy rules the day here and I said and I’m still standing up -- I said it’s too bad it is not the truth.

And at that point I realized I was like too hot and I needed to go for a really long walk. So I went to the butterfly museum in the afternoon and when I came back that evening it turns out that that -- that is when the government scientists realized that they were actually going to have to fight.

That this wasn’t going to be our science -- your science that Exxon was playing for the media. Exxon was playing for the general public.

Exxon was playing for the politicians and they had better do something different than what they were doing.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Right.

RIKI OTT: And it all came out of that. And anyway and I got the Exxon studies and I realized where all the weaknesses were and that became all part of Sound Truth where each chapter shows basically lying by design? To let the reader figure it out, but --

ALICIA ZORZETTO: We'll let --

RIKI OTT: On we went.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: We'll have a link to Sound Truth and to your -- Not One Drop.

RIKI OTT: So I haven’t covered any of the other paradigm shows or anything like that.

RIKI OTT: So what happened with Sound Truth was I got all the studies from the ecosystem side figured out and then I realized well what is happening with sick people.

So I went back and I looked at the court records and I realized holy cow there’s a whole thing going on here and I realized that I had to go back to Dallas to interview the doctor and all my friends in Cordova freaked out.

This was two years after I'd been arrested. You’re not going back to Dallas again are you? Are you kidding? So anyway I went.

I didn’t get arrested this time and I had a very interesting interview with Dr. William Rea at the Environmental Health Clinic-Dallas who at the time was and still to this day is the leading authority on chemical illnesses.

ALICIA ZORZETTO: Hum.

RIKI OTT: How -- where -- it -- it's called Environmental Medicine now. This is another paradigm shift that happened during the Exxon -- 20 years after the Exxon Valdez where the medical researchers -- medical doctors also began to realize that oil was much more toxic to humans.

It wasn’t just wildlife. Oil is a thousand times more toxic --