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The Exxon Valdez

Updated on January 22, 2017

Exxon's Catastrophic Oil Spill


"A catastrophic event that lead to one of the most thorough examinations of the effects of oil on the environment," is how the National Oceanic and Atomospheric Administration describes the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound. The Valdez was one of Exxon's top ships and had traveled thru Prince William Sound over 8,700 times. March 24, 1989 would change that. In fact, March 24, 1989 changed many things in the oil industry, fishing industry, shipping industry, environmental protection agency and the way Americans viewed industry vs. ecology. The impact of the Valdez oil spill reached from the Senate floor in Washington, DC to tiny Alaskan fishing communities in the pristine Alaskan territories where tourism was paramount to the economy of Alaska. Livlihoods were lost on that day and the Alaskan ecology remains to this day,less than it was. Twenty five years later, oil can still be found in the soils along the Alaskan coastline. Estimates of a 400 million dollar loss have been reported by the herring industry. The mussels' ecology may possibly be back to what it was before March 24, 1989 in thirty years, according to scientists studying the mussel beds.

2,000 sea otters, 320 harbor seals and approximately 250,000 seabirds died when the Valdez struck the Bligh Reef on that fateful day, spilling out over ten million gallons of oil, estimated Charles H Peterson from the University of North Carolina. The Exxon Valdez was on an established route to California carrying 55 million gallons of crude oil.

What happened afterwards is perhaps even as important as the event, itself. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990(OPA) was enacted. This law did several things to change the shipping industry, in particular the oil shipping industry. An oil tax trust fund was put in place, dedicated to the clean up of future oil spills. OPA also required double hull regulations for future ship builders. Double hull ships have an extra layer of ship between the oil and ocean. The Coast Guard has stated that if the Exxon Valdez had a double hull sixty percent of the oil spilled would not have been spilled. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill(EVOS) Trust Council was established between the state of Alaska, the federal government and Exxon. The Trust Council, still in effect today, does studies on how oil effects ecologies of fish, how to respond to oil spills, how to restore the environment after an oil spill and how to prevent further oil spills. MARPOL was enacted by the International Maritime Organization. MARPOL strengthened laws to prevent maritime pollution. These laws were ratified by all member countries due to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Although, there have been oil spills larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill, none other has had the impact on society that the Valdez spill has had. A board game, "On the rocks" was created by an Alaskan bartender; "Dead Ahead: the Exxon Valdez Disaster aired on American televisions; a cookbook was published; and two plays about the Valdez were produced.

Exxon vs. Baker ordered Exxon to pay punitive damages in the amount of five billion dollars. However, subsequent appeals set the amount at 500 million dollars. Exxon was also ordered to compensate several seafood companies known as Seatle Seven. And, Captain Joseph Hazlewood the man at the helm of the Valdez was found guilty of negligent discharge of oil. A misdemeanor with a fine of $50,000. He was also ordered to do 1,000 hours of community service.

Estimated funds spent on the clean-up of Prince William Sound and the Alaskan coastline are approximated at 2 billion dollars.

The Valdez was repaired and is now reportedly owned by a company in Hong Kong.

And, the United States dependency and reliance on crude oil, that can be summed up in OPA: EPA, 1990, "(p.#4)" Source reduction is fundamentally different and more desirable than waste management and pollution control. The Environmental Protection Agency needs to address the historical lack of attention to source reduction."

Have they?

Have you?

17,283 barrels of crude oil were consumed per day in the United States in 1988. In 2015 the United States consumed 19.4 million barrels per day.



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