Friday, March 21, 2014

Exxon Valdez 25th Anniversary

Photo taken 3 days after Exxon Valdez ran aground

On March 24, 1989 at 12:04 a.m., the Exxon Valdez, a 987-foot tanker bound for Long Beach, California, ran aground on the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil (~257,000 - 750,000) into the water of the sound. The oil spread across 1,300 miles of coastline.  

This was the largest spill in U.S. waters until the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. Prince William Sound is habitat for salmon, sea otters, seals, birds and other wildlife. The sound is extremely remote, only accessible by helicopter, plane or boat, which hampered efforts to contain the spill and to deal with the aftermath.

Immediately following the spill over 100,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles and 22 orca died. Salmon and herring populations crashed.  Health effects lingered in the ecosystems, with high mortality rates in a variety of species.

One of the most stunning revelations of a Trustee Council-funded monitoring effort is that Exxon Valdez oil persists in the environment and in places, is nearly as toxic as it was the first few weeks after the spill. The oil still has most of the same chemical compounds as oil sampled 11 days after the initial spill.

Studies indicate that Exxon Valdez oil is breaking down at a rate of 0-4% per year, with only a 5% chance that the rate is as high as 4%. At this rate, the remaining oil will take decades and possibly centuries to disappear entirely. (source)

As stated in an NPR story, the fisheries today are not the same. "The shrimp are slowly, slowly coming back. The crab aren't back. The herring aren't back. The salmon are back in abundance," Bernie Culbertson said.

Oil on Ice  is an excellent documentary that chronicles some of the aftermath of the spill.  The whole thing is available on-line at

NPR has an illuminating StoryCorps piece up with animal rescuers reminiscing about conditions at the time - Animal Rescuers Create Joy Amid Chaos After Exxon Valdez Spill - though whomever came up with the title of the piece was being delusional - they were not creating joy - there was a brief moment of relief during a period of tragedy.

It is worth spending some time on this anniversary contemplating the death of a thousand cuts that we are imposing on the environment. Ultimately, we are part of the environment too. 

An oil skimmer works on a slick near Latouche Island in the southwest end of Prince William Sound
on April 1, 1989, in Valdez, Alaska, one week after the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground.
(Chris Wilkins / AFP - Getty Images) Source: NBC News

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hi! I do read all of the comments and want to let you know that I really appreciate your stopping by and taking the time to leave a note. Work has fallen in on me and I have not had enough time to reply coherently lately so I apologize preemptively but still want to assure you that your comments are valued. I am using comment moderation to avoid using more annoying spam avoidance. Thanks for your patience.