Assignment: The Exxon Valdez oil spill
Introduction :In the early hours of March 24,1989, the tanker; namely The Exxon Valdez, hit the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. It left the Alyeska Pipeline nearly 3 hours ago, leaving for Long beach, CA with 31,700,000 gallons of oil; at least that’s what they thought. Like the sad demise of the Titanic, the Exxon Valdez collided into an iceberg, causing a big oil leak; the biggest one in US history. This catastrophe opened the eyes of many leaders and politicians, finally prompting to the oil pollution act of 1990.
What and how it happened: It all started on 23rd of March, 1989; the single hulled ship left the Alyeska Pipeline for Long Beach, California. The captain of the ship; Joseph Hazelwood left the dock, with no idea what was in store for him. His mind was impaired by alcohol, which caused him to take an early departure from the dock, to his quarters. He left his third mate; Gregory Cousins incharge, to maneuver the ship. He gave his third mate instructions to maneuver the ship around the ice, into the inbound lane. The inbound lane is the lane made for ships, coming in your direction, like our modern day roads. Due to the confusing path Cousins’ had spun himself into, he lost track of where he was, and ended up face to face, with an iceberg. This one novice mistake caused the loss of 10,800,000 gallons of oil, a legal case against Exxon; causing them to pay 150 million dollars in compensation and the huge deprivation of the environmental.
Cleanup: The 33rd US Code states that any oil transport organization has to have a ready plan for any ‘accidents’ that may occur at sea. The Exxon Valdez tragedy not only exposed Exxon itself but, many other oil shipping companies; as many huge oil transport organizations did not have any plan for an incident. After the oil spill, Exxon had no immediate ‘plans or machines’ to clean the spill. Exxon reached the scene 11 hours later with airplanes, dispersants and many volunteers. The cleanup required about approximately 10,000 workers, 1,000 boats and roughly 100 airplanes and helicopters. The airplanes started scattering dispersants throughout the spill, trying to cause the oil to ‘break up’ and making it easy for the volunteers to safely store and dispose the oil. Through the first 24 hours, there weren’t many volunteers who were willing to help. The dispersants proved “ineffective in some cases”, making no difference at all. Many experts thought the dispersants did more harm to the ocean than good. With the ineffectual dispersants, the only way to clean the mess was with hands and tissues. The US coast guard and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation also helped to clean up the oil. This caused the sad demise of 4 people(directly associated with cleanup). Even to this day, the oil spill hasn’t been fully cleaned up, with over 21,000 gallons still in the sea. The current status is: 20% evaporated, 50% biodegraded, 14% was cleaned up, 13% remained in subtidal sediments, 2% remained on shorelines, and less than 1% remained in the water.
Consequences and facts: The oil spill had huge consequences for the environment. The oil spill spread over 2092 km of coastline, contaminating over 20 different docs and beaches. The spilled oil could fill over 125 olympic size swimming pools. The oil majorly affected the animals, killing many magnificent creatures: approximately 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 900 bald eagles, 25,000 sea birds (including 10,000 birds who migrated north due to the winter), 1,000 Harlequin ducks, 22 killer whales, and thousands of Salmons. The spill had a diverse and long effect on the Pink Salmon, affecting their embryo’s forever and killing over 6 percent of the entire Pink Salmon population. With the fish forever asleep, the fishing industry of Alaska took a big hit. The spill causes over 300 million dollars of economic harm to more than 32 thousand people, whose life depended on fishing. It also caused major damage to the Alaska tourism industry, who lost 9400 tourists and 5.5 millions dollars in state spending. Two years after the dreadful spill; the economic loss to recreational fishing had continued causing over 31 million dollars in loss. Even 12 years later, oil can be found in over 91 beaches. Even today the three species of common loon, the harbor seal, the harlequin duck, the pacific herring and the pigeon guillemot still have not fully recovered from the deadly spill. Saying that many areas near and around Prince William Sound were actually never cleaned and left untouched, to understand and learn about the consequences a spill this size can have on the environment.
Exxon’s views: Exxon’s views on the spill are very positive, stating how they took immediate response after the incident, and how, the spill caused no lasting damage . According to Exxon(quote), “The ecosystem in Prince William Sound today is healthy, robust and thriving. While there were severe short term impacts on many species due to spilled oil, and they suffered damages, based on the studies of many scientists who have worked extensively in Prince William Sound, there has been no long term damage caused by the spilled oil.” Exxon Mobil also voluntarily reimbursed more than 11,000 Alaskans and businesses. Exxon also states that they have made certain changes to their ships and ship routes to improve oil spill: developing and applying new spill-detection technology, employing over 1,000 ExxonMobil employees involving oil spill response teams worldwide and strengthening training programs for vessel captains and pilots. Exxon has also been a vigilant part of the Ship Inspection Report Exchange (SIRE), complementing existing quality standards every year.
Personal Views: Personally I was shocked to know something like this ever happened. I was heartbroken to learn that this caused so much harm to the people of Alaska. I knew for a fact that the fish near the spill couldn’t survive, as the oil would make a barrier between the water and the open sky, which would in turn result in water contamination and oxygen barrier for the fish. This did not directly affect me in any way, but seeing how much the people of Alaska lost, just because of neophytic mistake. This could have been prevented in many ways, saving many majestic creatures and the serene ecosystem. Some of the ways could have been: banning alcohol on the ship or not going in the inbound lane under any circumstances. I hope this never happened again, causing any more harm to the current environment. This also shows that how the smallest actions can have the biggest ripples; the Captain of the ship commited a small mistake and now his whole career is jeopardized. I think there should be stricter rules, deeper investigations and better technology to stop this from ever taking place again.
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, Oil Spill Committee. “Lingering Oil.” Status of Restoration – Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, 24 Mar. 2014, www.evostc.state.ak.us/index.cfm?FA=status.lingering.
Mobil, Exxon. “Learn about the Valdez Oil Spill.” The Valdez Oil Spill, 3 Feb. 2015, corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/environment/emergency-preparedness/spill-prevention-and-response/valdez-oil-spill.
Science, Live. ” 5 Facts About the Historic Spill.” Exxon Valdez 25th Anniversary: 5 Facts About the Historic Spill, 3 May 2014, www.livescience.com/44314-exxon-valdez-spill-anniversary-facts.html.