Exxon Valdez Oil Spill – Why Cleanup Is On The Horizon


From the archives, on this day eight years ago…

The Exxon Valdez oil spill happened at Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, March 25, 1989, when Exxon Valdez, a large oil tank owned by Exxon Corporation, was docked at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. An oil train owned and operated by Exxon was damaged during the spill. A local fishing vessel was damaged as well, forcing the closing of the fishery. An unknown number of dead fish were also found.

At first, no one knew what to expect when they tried to clean up the oil spill. In fact, the clean-up efforts initially included shutting down the fishery, as well as all inland ports to reduce the chance that oil could leak into the Pacific Ocean. The Canadian government also offered aid and funds to support the effort. In the months following the oil spill, thousands of people would sign up and pay to be part of the clean-up team. As they worked feverishly to contain the mess, many would wonder if the Exxon Valdez oil spill could happen in Prince Rupert.

First, it was important to assess just how much oil had leaked from Exxon’s vessel. Estimates put the figure at around two billion gallons. Many scientists believe that it could take up to six years before the spilled oil has completely cleaned up. For those residents of Prince Rupert, this might seem like a very long time. However, even if two billion gallons are the total amount of oil that leaked, it would still be a very short-term oil spill compared to the many other natural disasters and spills that occur each day in the world.

When you consider the devastation that could have been prevented if Exxon had properly maintained their vessel, it seems less tragic than what actually happened. There is no doubt that the oil slick that resulted from the Exxon Valdez oil spill was the largest oil slick in the history of the world. However, it was also one of the most dangerous oil spills to occur in modern times. There are numerous lawsuits involving damage to property, personal injury, loss of income, and medical bills that will ultimately be paid for with insurance.

Obviously, the longer the clean-up process goes on, the more devastating the effects will be on the seafood industry. If the containment solution is not found and maintained for one year, millions of sea animals and wildlife will die. Not only will they suffer from exposure to the oil, but the birds, sea turtles, and crabs along with the other marine creatures will also be severely impacted. In the long run, the seafood industry, local fisherman, and wildlife populations all stand to lose. These are only a few of the impacts associated with the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

This spill has created another unfortunate example of why the Alaska Corporation Against Pollution (ACE) and the state of Alaska are working hard to have this crime charged criminally. At first blush, the idea seems ludicrous, because it is highly unlikely that a company would knowingly allow an oil slick of this magnitude to enter their marine habitat. The fact is however, that this is precisely what took place at the Exxon Valdez oil spill site. The oily marine substance eventually found its way into the marine food chain. This contaminated the seafood supply and has now infected many ecosystems and fisheries all throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and the Eastern Seaboard.

Currently, the Obama administration has implemented new regulations to address the issue of oil pollution. Among these new regulations is the Prevention of marine mammal loss or death, or APRL, and the Vessel Pollution Act (VPA). In addition, there are several additional penalties that will be enforced, including fines, and possible ship dismantling, which according to the Alaska’s Ports and Exhibits Division, could impose up to one million dollars in penalties.

There are currently no plans to clean up the Exxon spill, however there is hope that the current investigation might uncover additional potential sources of contamination. As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states: “APR/VPAA remains in early review stages. However, based on the information thus far and in consultation with the State of Alaska’s Bureau of Parks and Wildlife, we are considering taking the steps needed to remedy the situation and ensure that adequate control and protection measures are in place to mitigate future risks.” The Department of Defense, which initially handled the spill, has also stepped in to provide support and resources to the state’s efforts. In addition to looking into the possibility of additional lawsuits against the company, it has also offered to pay for any damages incurred due to the spill.