The Exxon Valdez Disaster

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The Exxon Valdez Disaster
The Exxon Valdez was an oil tanker owned by the Exxon corporation. The ship spilled its oil near Alaska, destroying the local environment and killing a great deal of the native wildlife. The gigantic oil spill is the largest ever in the history of the United States.
Though public outrage eventually mounted, the reaction to the oil spill came slowly. The Alaska Oil Spill Team was slow to respond, and by the time that work on cleaning up the area began, massive amounts of oil had already spread to a large area surrounding the ship.
The Exxon corporation was forced to clean up the spill and fined heavily for the damage it had caused. The company spent $2.2 billion for cleanup work, and the total costs will likely amount to over $4 billion.
A large amount of oil is spilt every year. In fact, the amount spilt by the Exxon Valdez amounts to only 5% of all that was spilt in 1989.
The accident

The oil tanker Exxon Valdez departed the Valdez oil terminal in Alaska at 9:12 pm on March 23, 1989 with 53 million U.S. gallons of crude oil bound for Washington. A harbor pilot guided the ship through the Valdez Narrows before departing the ship and returning control to Joseph Hazelwood, the ship's master. The ship maneuvered out of the shipping lane to avoid icebergs. Following the maneuver and sometime after 11 pm, Hazelwood departed the wheel house and was in his stateroom at the time of the accident. He left Third Mate Gregory Cousins in charge of the wheel house and Able Seaman Robert Kagan at the helm with instructions to return to the shipping lane at a prearranged point. Exxon Valdez failed to return to the shipping lanes and struck Bligh Reef at around 12:04 am March 24, 1989 , opening a large hole on its hull. The ship was full of oil at the time, carrying a total of 1.2 million barrels (190 million liters). Quickly, huge amounts of oil spilled into the ocean. In total, 265,00 barrels of oil (42 million liters) were dumped, 22% of that present of the ship.

Once out of the ship, the oil spread quickly. It ended up creating a 1,776 square mile (4,600 square kilometer) spill and gave 3,167 miles (5,100 kilometers) of coastline an oily covering. The damage from the spill was tremendous. Between 100,000 and 600,000 birds, 5,500 sea otters, 30 seals, and 22 whales were killed. Many other animals likely died as well and were never found. Other animals, such as bald eagles, that ate the oil-poisoned fish from the spill area were also killed.
Beginning three days after the vessel grounded, a storm pushed large quantities of fresh oil onto the rocky shores of many of the beaches in the Knight Island chain. In this photograph, pooled oil is shown stranded in the rocks. According to official reports, the ship carried 53,094,510 U.S. gallons (44,210,430 imp gal/200,984,600 L) of oil, of which 10.8 million U.S. gallons (9.0 million imp gal/41 million L) were spilled into the Prince William Sound. This figure has become the consensus estimate of the spill's volume, as it has been accepted by the State of Alaska's Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. Some groups, such as Defenders of Wildlife, dispute the official estimates, maintaining that the volume of the spill has been underreported.
The aftermath

The cause of the incident was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, which identified the four following factors as contributing to the grounding of the vessel:

  • The third mate failed to properly maneuver the vessel, possibly due to fatigue and excessive workload.

  • The master failed to provide navigation watch, possibly due to impairment under the influence of alcohol.

  • Exxon Shipping Company failed to supervise the master and provide a rested and sufficient crew for the Exxon Valdez.

  • The United States Coast Guard failed to provide an effective vessel traffic system.

The Board made a number of recommendations, such as changes to the work patterns of Exxon crew in order to address the causes of the accident.

In response to the spill, the United States Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). The legislation included a clause that prohibits any vessel that, after March 22, 1989, has caused an oil spill of more than one million U.S. gallons (3,800 m³) in any marine area, from operating in Prince William Sound.[
In April 1998, the company argued in a legal action against the Federal government that the ship should be allowed back into Alaskan waters. Exxon claimed OPA was effectively a bill of attainder, a regulation that was unfairly directed at Exxon alone. In 2002, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Exxon. As of 2002, OPA had prevented 18 ships from entering Prince William Sound.
OPA also set a schedule for the gradual phase in of a double hull design, providing an additional layer between the oil tanks and the ocean. While a double hull would likely not have prevented the Valdez disaster, a Coast Guard study estimated that it would have cut the amount of oil spilled by 60 percent.
The Exxon Valdez supertanker was towed to San Diego, arriving on July 10. Repairs began on July 30. Approximately 1,600 short tons (1,500 metric tons) of steel were removed and replaced. In June 1990 the tanker, renamed S/R Mediterranean, left harbor after $30 million of repairs. It was still sailing as of August 2007. The vessel is current owned by SeaRiver Maritime, a wholly owned subsidiary of ExxonMobil.

  1. When did the Exxon Valdez disaster occur?

  1. Where did the Exxon Valdez sink?

  1. What conditions had led to the sinking of the Exxon Valdez? (Human Vs. Natural)

  1. What effect did the sinking of the Exxon Valdez have on the surrounding environment?

  1. What factors/conditions made this disaster worse than it should have been? (Human Vs. Natural)

  1. What resulting regulations did OPA formulate and enforce as the result of this disaster?

  1. Identify 3 interesting facts that you found in this reading.

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