Just as Exxon Mobil posted the largest annual profits by an American company of just under $40 billion, the dark side of oil was exposed again. Eighteen years on, a new study by US government scientists has found that crude oil is still polluting the Alaskan waters near where the Exxon Valdez ran aground.

The study found that over 26,600 gallons of oil remain in Prince William Sound. Researchers say it is declining at a rate of only 4% a year and even slower in the Gulf of Alaska. Predictions that the pollution would have disappeared by now have proved to be inaccurate, and the damaged ecosystem is struggling to recover. The lingering oil, lying below the surface, affects wildlife and the general environment, and “degrades the wilderness character” of protected lands, the report says.

The scientists conclude: “Such persistence can pose a contact hazard to inter-tidally foraging sea otters, sea ducks, and shore birds, create a chronic source of low-level contamination, discourage subsistence in a region where use is heavy, and degrade the wilderness character of protected lands.”

Exxon of course dismissed the survey …