Exxon valdez Essay

This essay has a total of 1775 words and 9 pages.

exxon valdez


On March 24, 1989 at 4 minutes past midnight, the oil tanker ExxonValdez struck a reef in
Alaska's breath-taking Prince William Sound. Instantaneously, the quiet waters of the
sound became a sea of black. "We've fetched up - ah - hard aground north of Goose Island
off Bligh Reef, and - ah - evidently leaking some oil," Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the
ship, radioed the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office back in Valdez. That "some oil" turned
out to be a total of 11,000,000 gallons of crude oil leaking from the ruptured hull of the
ship. By the time a containment effort was put forth, a weather storm had helped to
spread the oil as much as three feet thick across 1,400 miles of beaches.

A little over ten years have passed since the largest oil spill and the greatest
environmental disaster in American history, but the waters and its surroundings are still
recovering. At first, many people repeated what was then thought as common knowledge,
"oil dissipates, nature heals quickly, all will be well in a year or two." This has not
been the case with the Exxon Valdez. This massive 987-foot tanker has left a lingering,
long-term effect on the natural habitat that surrounds these pristine waters, along with
an enormous socio-economic effect that has left many people wondering when and where the
next oil spill will be. Many associated with the recovery process, and its more than one
hundred projects per year, say it will take longer than a human lifetime to determine if a
full recovery is possible (Fine 1999).


The Exxon Valdez oil spill was initially thought of as a two to three year clean-up
project. As time went ahead, scientists and clean-up crews realized that it would take a
longer period of time and require a lot more effort than originally planned. Up to this
point, the oil has contaminated a national forest, four wildlife refuges, three national
parks, five state parks, four "critical habitat areas" and a state game sanctuary, which
spreads along 1,400 miles of the Alaskan shoreline. Recent scientific studies show that
the oil continues to wreak havoc among many spawning salmon, herring, and other species of
fish. This is even more devastating when considering that much of the wildlife around the
sound is dependant on the high calorie, high fat content of the herring as their prime
food source. Among the many casualties were 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald
eagles, as many as 22 killer whales, and an estimated quarter-million seabirds. It is
unclear how many billions of salmon and herring eggs and intertidal plants succumbed to
the oil smothering.

Within an ecosystem, each living thing depends on other living things. That means that
when the fish died in Prince William Sound, there was less food for the seals that
normally eat them. As those seals died, there was less food for the killer whales that eat
seals (Knickerbocker 1999).

This has led to a domino effect within the food chain, victimizing many of the animals
surrounding the area. Intertidal mussel beds are still contaminated to this day.
Twenty-three species of wildlife were effected by this oil spill, and only two species,
the bald eagle and the river otter, have fully recovered. The species that are well on
their way to a comeback include pink salmon, Pacific herring, sea otters, mussels, black
oyster catcher, common murre, marbled murrelet, and sockeye salmon. As with any
environmental disasters, there are some animals that are showing little or no clear
improvement since the spill occurred. This group includes harbour seals, killer whales,
harlequin ducks, common loons, cormorants, and the pigeon gullomot. In some areas, that
have been hardest hit by the oil spill, many of the species have an elevated level of
mortality. Even though the Exxon Valdez is the most-studied oil spill in world history,
it is also a particularly difficult one to research because of the lack of baseline data
on the ecology of Prince William Sound (Birkland 1998).

Among all the animal casualties, there is another victim, people. Thousands have been
forced to bare the consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Throughout the years, the
waters of Alaska have provided families with a living, but the oil spill changed that.
Fisherman in Cordova and other nearby cities surrounding the Gulf of Alaska have struggled
with scarce catches.

Some Alaskan natives still depend on seal meat for food. And fishing is a source of income
for many Alaskan families. As some fish and seal species continue to struggle 10 years
after the spill, so do the people who depend on them (Knickerbocker 1999).

Many of the people that used these waters as a source of income have not been able to cope
with the scarce catches, thus forcing more and more people to apply for unemployment and
other welfare system benefits. A study completed by Steven Picou, a sociologist from the
University of South Alabama, has also shown that the people who have been affected by the
oil spill have been traumatized and suffer from bouts of depression. There are high rates
of alcoholism and social ills that can be directly linked to the Exxon Valdez.

Although many have fallen victim to the oil spill, Exxon, the owner of the Exxon Valdez
was not held unaccountable. Within the first two years, Exxon had paid nearly $2.1
billion on clean up and another $1 billion in damages to Alaska and the United States in
the form of civil and criminal fines. Also the captain, Joseph Hazelwood, was also
charged with, but later acquitted of, operating the ship while intoxicated; although the
validity of the blood tests given by Captain Hazelwood have been questioned. Along with
the $3 billion spent in clean up and fines, Exxon was also ordered to pay $5 billion in
punitive damages, which it has managed to fend off through ongoing appeals.

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