Exxon Valdez Oil Spill – Alaska 1989. And The response of ExxonMobil

On March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez, en route from Valdez, Alaska to Los Angeles, California, ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The vessel was traveling outside normal shipping lanes in an attempt to avoid ice. Within six hours of the grounding, the Exxon Valdez spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons of its 53 million gallon cargo of Prudhoe Bay crude oil. Eight of the eleven tanks on board were damaged. The oil would eventually impact over 1,100 miles of non-continuous coastline in Alaska, making the Exxon Valdez the largest oil spill to date in U.S. waters.

The response to the Exxon Valdez involved more personnel and equipment over a longer period of time than did any other spill in U.S. history. Logistical problems in providing fuel, meals, berthing, response equipment, waste management and other resources were one of the largest challenges to response management. At the height of the response, more than 11,000 personnel, 1,400 vessels and 85 aircraft were involved in the cleanup.

The Exxon Valdez aground on Bligh Reef. (Source: NOAA)
The Exxon Valdez aground on Bligh Reef. (Source: NOAA)

Shoreline cleanup began in April of 1989 and continued until September of 1989 for the first year of the response. The response effort continued in 1990 and 1991 with cleanup in the summer months, and limited shoreline monitoring in the winter months. Fate and effects monitoring by state and Federal agencies are ongoing.

The images that the world saw on television and descriptions they heard on the radio that spring were of heavily oiled shorelines, dead and dying wildlife, and thousands of workers mobilized to clean beaches. These images reflected what many people felt was a severe environmental insult to a relatively pristine, ecologically important area that was home to many species of wildlife endangered elsewhere. In the weeks and months that followed, the oil spread over a wide area inPrince William Sound and beyond, resulting in an unprecedented response and cleanup—in fact, the largest oil spill cleanup ever mobilized; however, the scale of this spill will likely be eclipsed by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill originating in the bathypelagic zone of the Gulf of Mexico. Many local, state, federal, and private agencies and groups took part in the effort. Even today, scientists continue to study the affected shorelines to understand how an ecosystem like Prince William Sound responds to, and recovers from, an incident like the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The response of ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil acknowledged that the Exxon Valdez oil spill was a tragic accident that the company deeply regrets. Exxon notes that company took immediate responsibility for the spill, cleaned it up, and voluntarily compensated those who claimed direct damages. ExxonMobil paid $300 million immediately and voluntarily to more than 11,000 Alaskans and businesses affected by the Valdez spill. In addition, the company paid $2.2 billion on the cleanup of Prince William Sound, staying with the cleanup from 1989 to 1992, when the State of Alaska and the U.S. Coast Guard declared the cleanup complete. And, as noted above, ExxonMobil also has paid $1 billion in settlements with the state and federal governments. That money is being used for environmental studies and conservation programs for Prince William Sound.

ExxonMobil hired its own scientists to study the impacts of the spill, and they come to different conclusions than many of the results published by government agencies and peer-reviewed academic journals. Exxon’s scientists acknowledge the lingering pockets of oil in the sediments, but they argue that they do not pose a serious risk. It is their position that that there are now no species in Prince William Sound in trouble due to the impact of the 1989 oil spill, and that the data strongly support the position of a fully recovered Prince William Sound ecosystem.

Name of the Award – NEBOSH International General Certification.

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