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...