Date and Location of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill:
Extent of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill:
Severity of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill:
Cleanup efforts washed away much of the visible damage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill within the first year, but the environmental effects of the spill are still being felt.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill also destroyed billions of salmon and herring eggs. Twenty years later those fisheries were still unrecovered.
Significance of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill:
This is partly due to the nature of Prince William Sound as critical habitat for many different wildlife species, and partly due to the difficulty of deploying equipment and carrying out response plans in such a remote location.
Anatomy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill:
When the Exxon Valdez encountered icebergs in the shipping lanes, Hazelwood ordered Claar to take the ship out of the shipping lanes to avoid them.
At the same time, Helmsman Robert Kagan replaced Claar at the wheel. For some reason, still unknown, Cousins and Kagan failed to turn back into the shipping lanes at the specified point and the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef at 12:04 a.m., March 24, 1989.
Captain Hazelwood was in his quarters when the accident occurred. Some reports say that he was under the influence of alcohol at the time.
Causes of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill:
- The third mate failed to properly maneuver the vessel, possibly due to fatigue and excessive workload;
- the master failed to provide a proper navigation watch, possibly due to impairment from alcohol;
- Exxon Shipping Company failed to supervise the master and provide a rested and sufficient crew for the Exxon Valdez;
- the U.S. Coast Guard failed to provide an effective vessel traffic system; and
- effective pilot and escort services were lacking.
Additional Details of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill:
- Most of the oil that spilled from the Exxon Valdez was in the water within six hours after the ship hit Bligh Reef, and for the first two days it remained concentrated in a large but potentially manageable area near Bligh Island. On March 26, two days after the spill, a storm with winds of more than 70 mph swept through Prince William Sound and pushed the oil out to sea. By March 30, the oil stretched 90 miles beyond the spill site. Another complicating factor was that the spring tidal fluctuations at that time of year were nearly 18 feet, which carried the oil farther onto land than normal wave action would have done.
- Some of the cleanup efforts following the Exxon Valdez oil spill caused further damage instead of correcting it. To get at oil that had collected in rocky coves, rescue workers sprayed hot water from high-pressure hoses to displace it. Unfortunately, that method also destroyed tiny organisms that were either essential components in the food chain or could have accelerated the biodegradation of the oil.
- In early 2007, more than 26,000 gallons of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill remained trapped in the sand along the Alaska shoreline, according to a study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Scientists involved in the study determined that this residual oil was declining at a rate of less than 4 percent annually.
- The Exxon Valdez oil spill led to many lawsuits. In 1994, an Alaska jury ordered ExxonMobil to pay $287 million in actual damages and $5 billion in punitive damages. In 2006, an appeals court reduced punitive damages for the Exxon Valdez oil spill to $2.5 billion, half the original amount. Two years later, in June 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court cut the punitive damages even more, to $507.5 million. The new figure represented about 12 hours of revenue for the giant oil company at the time of the ruling.