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Exxon Valdez Oil Spill


ExxonValdez Oil Spill

On24 March 1989, a tanker Exxon Valdez travelled from Valdez toCalifornia outside the standard shipping lanes to avoid ice, andwithin six hours of grounding, Exxon Valdez spilled about 11 milliontons of the Prudhoe Bay crude oil. About eight of eleven tankscarried were destroyed. The oil eventually affects more than 1,100miles of coastline in Alaska thus, making Exxon Valdez the greatestoil spill to occur in United States waters. Response to Exxon Valdezinvolved many employees as well as equipment for a long time.Logistical problems in offering meals, fuel, response equipment,berthing, waste management as well as other resources became thebiggest challenge to the response management. During response timeover 1,400 vessels, 85 aircraft, and 11,000 employees were involvedin cleanup exercise. The shoreline cleanup started on April the sameyear and went on until September. After that, the response continuedfrom 1990 to 1991 with cleanup in summer months, as well as limitedshoreline monitoring in winter months (Saundry, 2010).

Theimages shown to the world through television and descriptions were ofdeeply oiled shorelines, dying and dead wildlife, as well asthousands of employees, mobilized to clean the beaches. The imagesreflected what most people felt was serious environmental abuse toecologically important section that is resident to many wildlifespecies endangered elsewhere. Weeks and months after the spill, theoil spread a large area beyond Prince William Sound thus, resultingin an extraordinary cleanup and response. In fact, this oil spillexperienced the largest cleanup exercise ever mobilized many state,federal, private, and local agencies as well as groups participatedin the response effort. Up to date, scientists have continued tostudy the shorelines that were affected with aim of understanding howecosystem such as Prince William Sound recovers from, and respond tothe event as Exxon Valdez oil spill (Saundry, 2010).

Theevents that lead to the spill

ExxonValdez left Trans-Alaska Pipeline station at around 9:00 pm on March23, 1989. An experienced ship’s pilot was hired to maneuver986-foot vessel through Valdez Narrows and he was controllingwheelhouse. Joe Hazelwood, the captain of a vessel, assisted WilliamMurphy, the expert ship pilot hired. After passing through the ValdezNarrows, Murphy passed over the vessel to captain Hazelwood and tookover wheelhouse. Exxon Valdez met icebergs in shipping lanes, andClaar was ordered by captain Hazelwood to take Exxon Valdez out ofshipping lanes in order to evade ice. Later he handed over thewheelhouse control to the third mate Gregory Cousins, and he wasinstructed to return to shipping lanes when they reached a set point.During that time, Helmsman Robert replaced Claar for unclear reasons.Robert and Cousins failed to return to shipping lanes and ship ranaground on the Bligh Reef at around 12:00 noon, March 24, 1989. Atthat time, captain Hazelwood was at his quarters. NationalTransportation Board carried out investigation and the boarddetermined five possible causes of the grounding. The first was thata third mate failed to maneuver the vessel possibly because ofexcessive workload and fatigue. Second, the master failed to observeproper navigation watch may be because of impairment from alcohol.Third, the Exxon Shipping Company did not supervise master and givehim rest time as well as sufficient crew for Exxon Valdez. Fourth,the United States coast guard failed to offer efficient vesseltraffic system. Finally, escort services and efficient pilot werelacking (Saundry, 2010).

Behaviorof oil

ThePrudhoe Bay crude oil has poured point of zero degree Celcius and APIgravity of about 27.0. The bulk of oil spilled from Exxon Valdez wason the loose for six hours of ship’s grounding. General trend ofoil was west and south from place of origin. Few days after oilspill, the large concentration of oil was near Bligh Island. A greatstorm that generated winds of about 70 mph around Prince WilliamSound on March 26, 1989, weathered much of oil and changed it intotarballs and mousse, and spread it over a large section. Three dayslater the oil spread 90 miles from spill site. Finally, from theBligh Reef, the oil spill stretched beyond 470 miles south to town ofChignik on Alaska Peninsula. About 1,300 miles of the shoreline werecovered with oil. About 200 miles were heavily oiled while 1,100miles were not heavily oiled. The spill area contains over 9,000miles of the shoreline (Saundry, 2010).

Besidesthe March 26 storm, the spill happened at season when spring tidalfluctuations were about 18 feet. This forced the oil to be depositedon shorelines above normal zone of the wave action. Diversity inshoreline forms in affected sections led to diverse oilingconditions. In some areas, oil was evident on sheer rock makingcleanup and access difficult, or the rocky beaches with scrap sizeeverywhere from coarse sand to the boulders, where oil couldpenetrate to sub-surface level. The oil spill affected both exposedand sheltered shorelines. Once the oil landed on the shoreline, itwas floated off to next high tide. After that, it was carried anddeposited in various locations thus, making tracking of oil migrationas well as shoreline impact difficult. The migration ended inmid-summer year 1989 while the remaining cleanup was done in oiledshorelines. Cleanup activities continued during summer seasons inyear 1990 and 1991. By the end of 1990, the surface oil wassignificantly weathered in places where it existed. In most cases,the surface oil was weathered in a liquid state. In case thesub-surface oil is disturbed, it gives off sheen. In year 1991, thecleanup activities were concentrated on remaining quantities ofsub-surface and surface oil (Saundry, 2010).

Controlof oil spill at sea

AlaskaPipeline Service Company received information about the incidentimmediately, and it sent a team to the site to help in stabilizingvessel. During time of incident, Alyeska spill response surge was notoperating. The magnitude of this incident was beyond Alyseskaability, therefore, Exxon took over and by March 25, 1989 Exxon hadtaken complete responsibility for the spill as well as the cleanupeffort. Setting out of the boom near the vessel was finished in 35hours of preparation. Exxon carried out successful dispersant testrequests on March 26, and it received permission the same day toapply dispersants to an oil slick. Because of the large storm, whichstarted the same day, most of oil turned to mousse. Since dispersantsdo not have ability to dissolve oil in form of mousse, Exxon could nolonger use dispersants on the floating oil in this response. On March25, 1989 evening, burning of the oil on water was carried out. About14,000 to 30,000 oil gallons were gathered using 3M Fire Boom, anddrawn behind fishing vessels that were U-shaped conformation andignited. The spilled oil burnt for about 75 minutes and it wasreduced to about 300 gallons of residue, which could be collectedeasily (Saundry, 2010).

Fivedispersant trials occurred between March 26 and 28, and on March 29Regional Response Team determined that the dispersants are notfeasible. Since there was no enough equipment to safeguard allshorelines, which could be impacted, state, local, and federalagencies collaborated and established shoreline`s protectionpriorities. Many companies decided that the fish hatcheries, as wellas salmon streams, had the highest priority. Moreover, containmentbooms were installed to safeguard these areas. In Prince WilliamSound, five fish hatcheries and two in Gulf of Alaska were roaredwith large amount of the boom installed at Sawmill Bay hatchery. Atthe peak of containment efforts, most people estimated that about 100miles of the boom was installed. Almost all types of boom that wasavailable on the market were tested and used during spill response.Because of the size of a spill, it was important to employinexperienced employees to tend and deploy booms and as a result,some boom was incorrectly handled and used, while some were impaired.Some boom dropped because of the improper deployment, leakage,infrequent tending, or inadequacy in resilience system. Otherproblems experienced included fabric tears in the boom because ofdebris, as well as tearing at the anchorage points from the waveaction. It was expected that 50 percent of damage to bigger boomhappened during boom recovery. In some cases, the ballast chains weretorn off at time of boom recovery, in case of boom lifting was doneby chain (Saundry, 2010).


Theassessment of shoreline was a requirement for implementation of beachcleanup. This assessment provided biological, geomorphological,oiling and archaeological information need for development of thesite particular treatment strategies. Cleanup undertakings wereprogramed around certain activities such as eagle nesting seal haulsout activity, seal pupping, fishing seasons, fish spawning, as wellas other events as possible. People used hoses spraying seawater toflush the oil from shorelines. Released oil was trapped with theoffshore boom and later removed using vacuum trucks or skimmers. Forareas that are not accessible or areas with weathered oil, peopleused heated seawater to blush oil from shoreline. Converted bargesand vessels were used for washing beach. It took some days to get upa conventional barge with equipment required to pump and heat thewater (Saundry, 2010).

Besideslarge-scale beach washing, ranking and tilling beaches, manualcleanup, enhanced bioremediation, debris pickup, as well as spotwashing were employed in cleaning up oil. In some areas, oil was sothick that people could pick up with buckets and shovels. Moreover,mechanical approaches were used on limited sites, such as use of thebulldozers to remove or relocate contaminated beach surfaces. Themechanical rock washing machines that were made for spill were notemployed in cleaning up contaminated rocks as well as returning themto breach. Greased storm berm was relocated in some instances so thatthe areas, which would not get much wave action, may be more exposedas well as cleaned through natural processes. If oiling in berm wasessential or persistent it would be tilled to free oil or washed toimprove cleaning (Saundry, 2010).


AlaskaState funded various studies on short-term economic effect of ExxonValdez oil spill. This oil spill caused positive and negative impacton the tourism sector. Major negative impacts included non-residentvacation, decreased resident, and pleasure visitor traffic inspill-affected areas because of lack of visitor services like charterboats, accommodations, and air taxis. There was serious laborscarcity in visitor industry in Alaska State because traditionalservice industry workers sort high paying clean-up jobs. Aboutfifty-nine percent of the companies in most affected areasexperienced spill-related cancellations, while about 16 percent ofcompanies experienced less than expected business because of an oilspill. Positive impact includes strong spill-related companies insome areas such as taxis, hotels, boat charters, and car rentals.Recreational Sport Fishing Losses were estimated based on impact ofoil spill on the sport fishing activity. Most losses had impact onseveral anglers, the fishing areas, number of the sport fishingtrips, length of trips, as well as species fished. The total loss in1989 was estimated to range from $10 to $580 million dollars, while,in 1990, the loss ranged from $4 million to $51 million dollars.Replacement cost of mammals and birds included replacement,rehabilitation, and relocation for some of shorebirds, seabirds, aswell as terrestrial and marine mammals that suffered injury duringExxon Valdez oil spill. Estimated loss ranged from $20,000 to $35,000dollars for every marine mammal such as whales, sea otters, seals,and sea lions. Loss for terrestrial animals ranged from $130 to $500dollars for every animal while eagles and seabirds loss ranged from$170 to $5,000 dollars (Saundry, 2010).

Conflictof interest

Thedirectors and employees owe Exon Valdez Company the duty to promotecompany’s business interests when an opportunity appears. As aresult, directors and employees are forbidden from taking individualbenefit of specific business opportunities where the company may showinterest. The “corporate opportunity doctrine” is complex, and itis impossible to describe all business opportunities that belong, orthe company is interest with and what opportunities directors oremployees have an interest in. Most common types of circumstancesfalling within corporate opportunity doctrine forbid directors andemployees. From first, personally taking advantage of businessopportunity, which typically would be pursued by the company. Second,taking advantage of another business opportunity that Exon ValdezCompany may be interested, and if that opportunity is realized usingcompany property, company information or contacts. Third, directorsand employees are prohibited against competing with or evendisadvantaging business. If a director or employee has any queryregarding whether the corporate opportunity doctrine relates with anypotential business opportunity, she or he should consult withCompany’s General Counsel (Saundry, 2010).

Eventhough employees are free to contribute to outside activities,employees are not allowed to engage in an activity that may or appearto bring conflict company’s best interests and personal interests.The conflicts of interest include having material financial interest,which include stock ownership in outside business that may create orgive the appearance of conflict of interest. Accepting or seeking anypersonal services or loan from outside business, except financialinstitutions or the service providers providing same services or loanto third party under same terms in the ordinary course of therespective companies (Saundry, 2010).


Health,safety, and environmental

Asound health, safety, and environmental performance contribute tocompany’s competitive strength as well as benefits to stockholders,employees, and customers. Exon Valdez Company, therefore, expects itsemployees to carry out operations for the company with the highestregard for quality of environment. These translates into dailyactivities that mean, reporting insecure working conditions,utilizing resources efficiently, recycling resources appropriately,handling hazardous materials properly, as well as handling anddisposing of all waste materials according to company policies andlaws. Maintain secure facilities and workplace as well assafeguarding company’s property and employees. It is the desire ofa company to comply with laws and principles established byappropriate state, local, federal governments, and agencies bothforeign and United States. At the same time, the company will respectrules of discharging waste to the water resources, atmosphere, ordisposal of hazardous and solid wastes. Every employee mustunderstand and comply with company’s “information and recordsmanagement policy” and “Email retention and usage policy.”Employees are also responsible for retaining accurate and practicallydetailed records, reports, as well as other records. No employee mayfabricate or improperly alter information contained in company’srecords. Company policy and good business practice demand thatspecific business records to be maintained for different periods. Itis the responsibility of every employee to make sure that records arekept in compliance with company’s document, email retentionpolicies, as well as with applicable laws. The documents that requireno storage should be disposed of according to company policies. Ifgovernment investigation is ongoing, records should not be destroyeduntil company’s legal counsel announce the conclusion of the matter(Saundry, 2010).


Saundry,P. (2010). Water Pollution Historic Oil Spills Pollution. Journalof Earth Topics