Exxon Valdez: what lessons have we learned from the 1989 oil spill disaster?

March 24, 2014

On the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill 25 years ago, Dr. Martin Robards, Director of WCS Arctic Beringia program, reflects upon the stakes of another accident and what steps have been taken to prevent one.

It’s been 25 years to the day since human error allowed the Exxon Valdez tanker to run aground in the pristine waters of Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska, dumping 11 million gallons of crude oil in what would become the greatest environmental disaster for an entire generation.

Even after the recent Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico — a much larger accident in terms of the amount of oil released — the spectre of Exxon Valdez remains fresh in the minds of many Americans old enough to remember the wall-to-wall media coverage of crude-smothered rocks, birds, and marine mammals.

In the quarter century since the Exxon Valdez foundered, changing economic and climatic conditions have led to increased Arctic shipping, including increasing volumes of petroleum products through the Arctic. Sadly, apart from a few areas around oil fields, there is little to no capacity to respond to an accident – leaving the region’s coastal indigenous communities and iconic wildlife at risk of a catastrophe.

Local Alaskans and conservationists like myself – who witnessed the Exxon Valdez impact at close range – will never forget the damage. The wake of oil spread far from Bligh Reef, devastating life in Prince William Sound, killing over a quarter of a million seabirds at the large colonies in neighbouring Cook Inlet, before moving along the coast of Kodiak and to a point on the Alaska Peninsula 460 miles to the south.

Read the full article on The Guardian >>
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