Draft legacy of An Oil Spill – 20 Years After the Exxon Valdez Table of Contents Foreword The Spill, The Settlement, and The Restoration Plan The status of Restoration The Persistence, Toxicity

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** Represents the cost of the easement through 2013. Twenty-nine million dollars ($29,000,000) was set aside for the fee purchase of these lands. Annual payments to Koniag are taken from this fund. The balance continues to accrue interest which is payable to Koniag at sale should Koniag chose to sell according to the terms and conditions of the master agreement.

Photo: Steam meandering through coastal wetland. Coastal streams provide salmon spawning beds as well as habitat for shorebirds and other species.

The Future

Because complete recovery from the spill may not occur for decades, and because healthy habitats are essential to the permanent recovery of the spill region, the Trustee Council has taken steps to extend its efforts to protect key habitats. By unanimous resolution in March 1999, the Council set aside $25 million dollars to continue the habitat protection program.

Ongoing Efforts

In March 2008, the Trustee Council authorized the expenditure of $10,000,000 as a contribution to the purchase of three parcels on northern Afognak Island as well as the purchase of three small parcels on the Kenai Peninsula, two parcels on Kodiak Island and one parcel in Valdez. These transactions, summarized below, are not yet complete and therefore are not reflected in the Summary by Region table.

Habitat protection efforts continue on Northern Afognak Island, in Kenai Fjords National Park, and within the Kodiak Island Refuge.
Protecting the Trustee Council Investment

Parcels acquired using Trustee Council funds are typically managed by a federal or State land management agency. In some cases, title is held by a local government. In all cases a conservation easement is in place to ensure that the lands are managed in perpetuity for the purposes for which they were acquired. The following activities are prohibited on all Trustee Council acquired lands: changing the topography; dumping trash; using biocides; removing or destroying plants except for subsistence or medicinal use; altering watercourses; using motorized vehicles with the exception of floatplanes; removing or harvesting timber; introducing non-indigenous plants; and building facilities. Limited facilities such as public use-cabins, weir sites, trails, and campsites may be constructed for research or management purposes. Lands acquired with Trustee Council funds are available to the public for recreation, hunting, fishing, and subsistence uses.


The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has successfully completed habitat protection measures with a variety of landowners including native corporations and allottees, native allottees, communities, and many other private individuals. The Trustee Council and the various land management agencies have also partnered with a variety of non-profit organizations such as The Trust for Public Land, the Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, The American Land Conservancy, the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, and the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. Many of the non-profit organizations working with the Trustee Council have contributed additional grant and private sector funds as well as staff resources.

To date, the habitat protection program has expended or committed nearly $400 million dollars to the protection of habitat and protected more than 647,000 acres in the spill affected area. These funds have provided individuals and corporations with a financial return on their investments and assets and these dollars have then circulated throughout the community. These lands are resource rich and protect riparian habitat, marine mammal haulout areas, bald eagle nests, seabird colony locations, marbled murrelet nesting habitat, subsistence harvest areas as well as cultural resource sites. The lands and interests in lands acquired with settlement funds have been placed in public ownership. In many cases these lands have become parks or have been incorporated into existing parks, forests, and refuges. In all cases these lands are being managed in a manner that will support recovery of injured natural resources and services and provide sustainable and valuable habitat in perpetuity. The habitat protection program has been and continues to be a successful restoration strategy; a strategy with strong public support that leaves a lasting, visible legacy of the Exxon Valdez oil spill restoration program.
Photo: Woman sitting in forest, looking up, water behind. To date, the habitat protection program has committed nearly 400 million dollars to the long-term protection of nearly 650,000 acres of habitat in the spill area.

Map of habitat acquired or protected in the spill area, under a conservation easement through Trustee Council funding.
The Effect on People
The Exxon Valdez oil spill had tremendous negative impacts, both culturally and economically, on the people who live in the spill area. The Trustee Council recognizes the enormous stress and economic and cultural dislocation caused by the spill. In an effort to address these losses within the terms of the 1991 settlement requirements, the Trustee Council has devoted a major potion of restoration funds to the restoration of the fish, birds, marine mammals, and archaeological resources that support human communities in the spill area.
The lives of the people who live, work, and recreate in the areas affected by the spill were completely disrupted in the spring and summer of 1989. Commercial fishing families did not fish and their vessels sat dormant. Those people who traditionally subsisted on the fish, shellfish, wildlife, and plants of the region no longer trusted what they were eating and instead turned to high-priced groceries. Recreational use was mostly shut down and the world-wide image of Prince William Sound as a pristine ecosystem was tarnished with oil.
Twenty years later, the spill and the effects of the lingering Exxon Valdez oil in the ecosystem, continue to affect the social fabric of native villages and communities throughout the affected area. Subsistence gathering in some intertidal areas has never resumed and commercial herring fisheries remain disrupted.
Photo: Tour boat in front of tidewater glacier. Summer tour boats now bring an estimated 106,000 visitors a year to Prince William Sound.
Recreation and Tourism

Recreation and tourism dramatically declined in 1989 in Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, and the Kenai Peninsula. Injuries to natural resources led resource managers to limit access to hunting and fishing areas, and recreational users, such as kayakers, were prevented from enjoying those beaches that harbored visible oil. Recreation was also affected by changes in human use in response to the spill. Areas that were unoiled became more heavily used as activity was displaced from the oiled areas. Even though visitation has increased since the spill, lingering oil remains on beaches and in some localized areas this remains a concern for recreational users.

Passive Use

In evaluating spill damage, the largest damage in monetary terms came not from the direct use of injured resources by individuals, such as sport or commercial fishing, but rather from people who have not visited the spill area but wish to visit some day; those who have no plans to use the area but want their children to have the opportunity; and those who have no plans for direct use but simply value the fact that unspoiled wilderness exists. The key to the recovery of passive use is providing the public with current information on the status of injured resources and the progress made towards their recovery.


Fifteen predominantly Alaskan Native communities (with a total population of about 2,200 people) in the spill area rely heavily on harvests of subsistence resources, such as fish, shellfish, seals, deer, and waterfowl. The spill severely disrupted subsistence activities for the people of these villages. The oil spill and cleanup affected the harvests by reducing the availability of fish and wildlife, created concern about the possible health effects of eating oiled fish and wildlife, and disrupted the traditional lifestyle. Fears about food safety have diminished over time, but remain a concern for some.

In 1998, residents of Chenega worked with National Marine Fisheries Service scientists to clean oil from 12 local mussel beds. They assisted Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation staff with removing residual oil on five local beaches used for subsistence. Alaska Native community members also identified sites they wanted evaluated and participated in the survey work during NOAA’s 2001 lingering oil study in Prince William Sound. From 1995-1997, fishery enhancement projects were funded by the Trustee Council in Tatitlek, Chenega Bay, Perryville, and Port Graham.
By 2003, overall subsistence harvests in the villages had returned to pre-spill levels. However, many injured subsistence resources, including clams and mussels, have still not recovered. Spill-area residents therefore report that increased effort and costs are required to achieve subsistence harvests of these resources.
Commercial Fishing

Commercial fishing was injured as a result of the spill’s impacts to commercial fish species and through subsequent emergency fishing closures. Fisheries for salmon, herring, crab, shrimp, rockfish and sablefish were closed in 1989 throughout Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, the outer Kenai coast, Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula due to oiling. Shrimp and salmon commercial fisheries remained closed in parts of Prince William Sound through 1990.

The most important species that is still experiencing significant problems is Pacific herring. As discussed previously, herring are an ecologically and commercially important species in Prince William Sound. They are central to the marine food web, providing food to marine mammals, birds, invertebrates, and other fish. Herring are also commercially fished for food, bait, sac-roe, and spawn on kelp.
Herring populations were initially damaged by the spill and, for reasons that are not clear, have not rebounded in the subsequent 20 years since the spill. Due to the decreased population, the herring fishery in the Sound has been closed for 13 of the 19 years since the spill. The population began increasing again in 1997 and the fishery was opened briefly in 1997 and 1998. However, the population increase stalled in 1999, and continued disease impacts on the population may be limiting recovery. No trend suggesting healthy recovery has occurred over the last eight years and the fishery remains closed.
Restoration strategies continue to focus on restoring commercially-important fish populations, developing fishery research techniques, and acquiring and protecting fish habitat.
Fishing boats tied up at dock, extends across the photo. Commercial seiners wait for fishing season to open in the Cordova small boat harbor.

Improvements to Spill Prevention and Response

One of the major lessons of the Exxon Valdez oil spill was that the spill prevention and response capability in the Prince William Sound was fundamentally inadequate. Since that time, several significant improvements have been made in oil spill prevention and response planning. Alaska today has the best and safest oil transportation system in the world.

  • It is estimated that if the Exxon Valdez had had a double-hull structure, the amount of the spill would have been reduced by more than half. As part of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, Congress required that all tankers in Prince William Sound be double-hulled by the year 2015. All but one tanker now in use in the sound are already double-hulled, with new tankers built by several companies.

  • Two escort vessels now accompany each tanker while passing through the entire sound. There are now 11 tugs in the system sharing escort duties. They not only watch over the tankers, but are capable of assisting them in the event of an emergency, such as a loss of power or loss of rudder control. Twenty years ago, there was only one escort vessel through Valdez Narrows.

  • Specially-trained marine pilots, with considerable experience in the sound, are now aboard the ship during its entire voyage through the Sound. Weather criteria for safe navigation are also now firmly established.

  • The U.S. Coast Guard now monitors every tanker via satellite as they pass through Valdez Narrows and exit the sound. The new system is so advanced the Coast Guard can actually detect from their control room if a tanker begins to drag its anchor 35 miles away. In 1989, the Coast Guard watched the tankers only through Valdez Narrows and Valdez Arm.

  • The location and type of instruments used to monitor winds and seas have been improved to alert the Coast Guard when sailing conditions warrant shutting down tanker traffic.

  • The combined ability of skimming systems to remove oil from the water is now ten times greater than it was in 1980, with equipment in place capable of recovering more than 300,000 barrels of oil in 72 hours.

  • Even if oil could have been skimmed up in 1989, there was no place to put the oil-water mix. Today, seven barges are available with a capacity to hold 818,000 barrels of recovered oil.

  • There are now 49.1 miles of containment boom in Prince William Sound. This is more than ten times the amount available at the time of the Exxon Valdez spill.

  • Dispersants are now stockpiled for use and systems are in place to apply them from helicopters, airplanes and boats.

  • Contingency planning for spills in the Sound include a scenario for a spill of 34 million gallons (809,000 barrels). Drills are held in the Sound each year.

The debate continues over whether a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster can be contained and removed once it is on the water. But there is little doubt that today the ability of industry and government to respond is considerably strengthened from twenty years ago.

Complacency is still considered one of the greatest threats to oil spill prevention and response. So, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company conduct both scheduled and unannounced drills and participate in regular training exercises in PWS each year. Community training programs have been established and local fishing fleets have been trained to respond to spill emergencies. In addition, public advisory groups for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet were established under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Since then, the Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Councils have served as a citizen watchdog over industry and the government agencies that regulate the industry.

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