News / USA

    25 Years After Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Alaska Retains Scars

    Exxon Valdez Ushers in New Era of Pollution Responsei
    X
    March 24, 2014 10:42 AM
    On March 24, 1989, a huge tanker sailed from Valdez at the terminus of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline into Prince William Sound. The Exxon Valdez struck a reef and spilled 41.5 million liters of crude oil. 25 years ago, it was largest oil spill in U.S. history. Rosanne Skirble reports.
    Rosanne Skirble
    In the early morning hours of March 24, 1989, a huge tanker sailed from Valdez at the terminus of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline into Prince William Sound. The Exxon Valdez struck a reef and spilled 41.5 million liters of crude oil.

    Twenty-five years ago, it was largest oil spill in U.S. history, overtaken in 2010 by the BP Deep Water Horizon rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico. Still, Exxon Valdez holds the dubious distinction as the nation’s greatest environmental disaster from an oil spill and marked a turning point in the prevention of and response to such accidents.

    Community in shock

    Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
    x
    Click to enlarge
    Click to enlarge
    Oceanographer Debbie Payton was called to Alaska a few hours after the spill by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She discovered a community in shock.     

    “At the town meeting, I would describe it as chaos, confusion," Payton said. "People [were] upset because of a lack of information. How could this happen in our very pristine backyard?”  

    Payton's job was to help predict where the oil would go. On Day One, she saw the eerie black sheen on Prince William Sound. Three days later, a storm picked up, and over the next weeks and months the oil spread to beaches and coves along the rocky coastline.

    “There were oiled birds," she recalled. "There were some marine mammals that could be seen surfacing through the oil. There was oil on the beaches.”

    A dead otter is among hundreds of thousands of animals oiled or killed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. (Credit: Alaska Resources Library and Information Service)A dead otter is among hundreds of thousands of animals oiled or killed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. (Credit: Alaska Resources Library and Information Service)
    Response teams used skimmers and booms. They burned the oil, deployed dispersants and sprayed steam on rocks. Recovery was slow, the location remote and the environmental loss staggering; hundreds of thousands of seabirds, sea otters, seals, bald eagles and whales were dead.  

    25 years later

    Payton now heads NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, which has monitored the Exxon Valdez spill since the beginning.  She says while pockets of oil are still visible, the coast and the fisheries appear healthy, with some notable exceptions.

    “There are still some concerns with one of the fisheries, the herring fishery," she said.

    The herring industry, once a thriving coastal business, has collapsed. One former fisherman - who didn’t give his name - bears the scars. He doubts herring will ever be fished commercially here again.   

    “Typically for the herring season we might have made $35,000, $40,000," he said. "Now nothing.”

    Lingering oil is apparent in shoreline sediments on Prince William Sound, Sept. 2013. (Credit: D. Janka)Lingering oil is apparent in shoreline sediments on Prince William Sound, Sept. 2013. (Credit: D. Janka)
    The lawsuits filed against Exxon ended with a 2008 Supreme Court ruling, which capped punitive damages at $2.5 billion. While the company has spent over $4 billion - in compensation, cleanup payments, settlements and fines - critics allege that it is not enough. But Exxon Mobil spokesman Richard Keil told VOA it was a fair deal.  
        
    “We took immediate responsibility for the spill," Keil noted. "The payments we’ve made are based on agreements worked out in court with input from all parties.  It’s also important to note that the company voluntarily compensated more than 11,000 Alaskans and businesses within a year of the spill.”

    Safety changes

    Keil says that the Exxon Valdez accident marked a low point, but also sparked a dramatic change in corporate culture to put safety first.

    “It’s the number one factor guiding any and all business decisions we make," Keil said. "We want to protect the environment we’re operating in, the communities we’re part of and the employees, contractors and the people who live near our operations.”

    Exxon Valdez was the impetus for other changes too, says NOAA’s Payton, starting with a new law, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

    “It led to double hulled tankers," she said. "It led to community actions groups… better integration with response communities all the way from the oil spill response organizations, private entities, responsible parties through the state and federal government.”  

    Payton’s office responds to between 100 and 150 spills a year. She says a new generation of booms, skimmers and dispersants remain in NOAA’s arsenal, but the agency has added other tools, like an online data system, which records ocean currents and ship locations and predicts the path of oil in real time.

    “And that allows us to just pull pieces of information together even quicker so that we can make decisions that much quicker,” she said.

    Chuck Clusen, who heads Alaska Projects for the Natural Resources Defense Council, sees it another way, especially as the U.S. considers drilling in pristine areas of the Arctic.

    “It’s a wake-up call for operations generally on the oceans involving oil," Clusen said. "The government and industry must take heed to that and understand that there are places simply we cannot go.”

    If Exxon Valdez has taught us anything, Clusen says, it is to fairly weigh the ecological risk against the economic benefit of oil extraction.

    You May Like

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: tess jordan from: antarctica
    April 03, 2014 1:54 PM
    OIl Spill Eater II is going to clean up the valdez at some point just like it's going to do in the gulf it's just a matter of time before the non toxic most proven oil spill clean up product in the world is used there.

    by: Claudia L from: USA
    March 29, 2014 2:51 PM
    Another mistake by the SCOUS not allowing them to pay for their mistakes. What's is wrong with them?????

    This will continue to happen as long as companies know they can not be held responsible for their actions.

    by: Nomoremonarchy from: Northwest N.J.
    March 25, 2014 7:27 AM
    Yeah and we let the BP off so cheaply , that you can't go near Washington without hearing the Squeak. Even now the Shrimp are coming up with Sores all over their bodies and are mutant and showing no eyes at all. And the big buyers are scooping everything up and it's being taken rich tot he market. While the Little Shrimper is at least taking the time to remove the Mutants from what they harvest. Remember when Pig-Ears and the First moose were frolicking in the Surf and telling one and all that the Bay was pristine and that they'd be willing to eat anything that came from there. Just like the Planks in his Campaign Platform . Nothing but lies and no " Transparency." I hope every meal in the W.H. and aboard AFl has a helping of Shrimp on the menu. Even Breakfast for that bunch of Liars.

    by: peachayapa from: Thailand
    March 24, 2014 10:29 AM
    I hope the oil clears away soon because all the fishes and the animals have to die because of human pollution.Q:How many years are estimated that the oil would finally go?
    In Response

    by: Mark from: Virginia
    March 24, 2014 1:55 PM
    probably....never.

    If oil I still present on the surface after 25 years, then how much of it has seeped into the ground? Erosion (natural and man-made) will only reveal these 'pockets' of absorbed oil and bring them back to the surface for many, many more years to come. There is oil beneath the world's oceans (otherwise, why would they be drilling for oil so far off-shore), and while some oil does seep up naturally, it is when so much of it is concentrated in one place (as in the tanks and hulls of surface ships) when accidents do happen, they have the biggest impacts to nature.

    by: Motherhawk from: Oregon
    March 24, 2014 10:08 AM
    The people don't have much of a voice. Here in Oregon they are shipping oil right alongside our beautiful Columbia Gorge. No one wants it. They have to ship it secretly. If they reveal a schedule, it will be blocked by protestors. They shipped parts to Canada for the pipeline secretly, in the middle of the night, heavily guarded because they know the people don't support this dirty energy. So if the people don't support it, why is it still happening? Textbook definition of fascism: when government and corporations are wedded together are rule in spite of the voices of the people.

    by: bob from: usa
    March 24, 2014 10:00 AM
    Exxon has made 20-50 Billion per year since doing this. Instead of paying until it was all cleaned, and they go to court and buy their way out of finishing.

    by: DougCheri Bledsoe
    March 24, 2014 9:54 AM
    Good thing the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico sustain the micro organisms that eat oil. Oil/fossil fuel is organic and with a little warmth these micros will clean it up. Alaska is like a refrigerator and that gunk will lay there a long time.

    by: JohnL
    March 24, 2014 9:38 AM
    Absolute nonsense. The ill effects disappeared almost instantly. The only remaining impact is the constant request for government funds by various consultants and nonprofits to "study" the impact. By the next fishing season and thereafter there were more fish than ever before and the handful of dead birds and otters were totally replaced. I know. I was there before, during, and after the spill.
    In Response

    by: Claudia L from: USA
    March 29, 2014 3:00 PM
    The people of Cordova, Alaska, are still struggling. There are no herring left and the herrings are on the lower part of the fish food chain. This is 25 years later. In 1994, an Alaska jury awarded $5 billion in punitive damages for Exxon's negligence to the people of the towns who experienced business loss. But the litigation dragged on for nearly two decades before the U.S. Supreme Court reduced the award to $500 million, plus interest which paid for NOTHING!

    by: Anonymous
    March 24, 2014 8:45 AM
    funny...this just happened again in houston on saturday
    In Response

    by: Nomoremonarchy from: Northwest N.J.
    March 25, 2014 7:29 AM
    Start off your Comments with the phrase : " Once upon a Time," please. Take a little trip down to the Gulf and talk with the Shrimpers and ask them to show you the Mutant Shrimp. Compliments of the B.P. and the Sweetheart deal our " Pretender o the Throne , gave to them.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora