Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

ABSTRACT

In March of 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef
in Prince William Sound, Alaska. An eighteen foot wide hole was ripped into the
hull, and 10.9 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the ocean. In the
following weeks, many things transpired. This paper will discuss the cleanup,
the damage, and the results of the biggest oil spill in United States history.


On March 24, 1989, in Prince William Sound Alaska, the Exxon Valdez was
moving South West after leaving Port Valdez. The ship was carrying over fifty
million gallons of crude oil. When the Valdez was only twenty-eight miles from
the port, it ran aground on Bligh reef. The bottom was ripped open, and 10.9
million gallons of North Slope Crude Oil spilled into the frozen Alaskan waters
at a rate of two hundred thousand gallons per minute. The remaining forty-two
million gallons were off loaded. In the ensuing days, more than 1,200 miles of
shoreline were hit with oil. This area included four National Wildlife Refugees,
three National Parks, and Chugach National Forest.
Within hours, smaller tanker vessels arrived in order to off load the
remaining oil. Unfortunately, the cleanup effort was hindered by an inadequate
cleanup plan that had been created during the 1970's. These plans outlined how
an oil spill would be handled, including provisions for maintaining equipment
such as containment booms and "skimmer boats." The plans also called for a
response team to be on twenty-four hour notice. Unfortunately, the plans were
good on paper only. A spill of this size had not been anticipated. Therefore,
the response teams had been demobilized, and the equipment that was supposed to
be ready at all times was either too far away or nonexistent.. Precious hours
were also wasted as Corporations, the Alaskan State Government, and the National
government argued over who should take control of the situation. The arguments
ensued after debates over who would pay for what, who was responsible for what,
and who would do the best job.
The local fishermen were a big help with the cleanup effort. They
battled with the oil in order to protect their industry. Many fisherman were
seen in row-boats in the small coastal inlets. The fishermen worked by hand to
clean up the oil, using buckets to scoop up the oil, which was several inches
thick on top of the water in some places. Fishermen would leave in the morning
and return when their boat was filled with oil. The oil that they scooped out
was then deposited at special collection sites. The fishermen also used their
boats to help with the deployment of containment booms. The booms would be
fastened behind the boats and then dragged into place. However, the booms were
not always helpful do to choppy seas. Many fishermen also became temporary
employees of Exxon, receiving excellent pay on an hourly basis.
The cleanup was a long and tiring process which was plagued by many
difficulties. Inexperience was a major problem. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Clyde
Robbins explained in disgust that, "It was almost as if that spill was the first
one that they had ever had." The equipment was not ready and not in perfect
shape and the response teams were not equipped to deal with a spill of the
magnitude that occurred. Other difficulties arose due to the format that was
used by the executive committee in charge of the cleanup spill. They had set
themselves up in such a way that every member of the committee had veto power.
This was a result of the original conflicts that took place between corporations
the state government and the National government. It was nearly impossible to
get all of the members of the committee to agree on one particular plan of
action.
The natural factors also made the cleanup a difficult process. The
Alaskan wilderness is a rugged country. Rocky shorelines made beach work
difficult, and the cold weather made working long hours very difficult. Another
problem with the cold weather was that it prevented the oil from breaking down.
Under normal weather conditions, the oil would have began to decompose, which
would have made it easier to deal with. There were also problems with high
winds, which were often in excess in of forty knots. Perhaps the most
interesting problem that cleanup workers had to deal with was with the wildlife.
There was actually one reported case of an Alaskan brown bear attacking a worker
that was on the beach. All of these factors combined to make the cleanup more
difficult then anticipated.
The cleanup process