Fred Jaicks  Written and compiled by Fred Jaicks


The Exxon Valdez oil spill was one of the greatest ocean disasters in modern day history. The problems caused by the spill were too great for even the large company to hide under a market umbrella. The spill happened years ago, but it still remains a popular topic because of its effects on the environment.

Overview of the incident

The Exxon Valdez oil happened in 1989 on March 24, near Alaska in the Prince William Sound. It was one of the worst environmental disasters that had a human cause. Over 10 million gallons of oil spilled into the environment and the location made it difficult for cleanup crews to reach the area. Before workers reached the scene, over 11,000 square miles were affected. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill gives more details on the overview, as does Remembering the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.

Cause of the incident

The Exxon Valdez ship left around 9 pm on March 23 of that year. The ship was forced to move around because of ice in the area. Two met steering the ship apparently started a 12 hour ship without first getting the proper amount of time off. The captain requested permission to move the ship again because of ice and moved it again, where it hit Bligh Reef. The Reef cracked the hull of the ship, causing the oil to spill out. Had the captain kept the ship on course, the problem wouldn’t have occurred. The cause is discussed at History & Facts and The Encyclopedia of Earth.

Impact on the environment

A large amount of problems caused by the oil spill were caused by the cleanup measures. Oil was pushed into the water and also pushed off microbial organisms such as plankton. Other animals depended on those organisms for survival, but they were destroyed during the cleanup. A large amount of oil stayed on the coastline where it still sits today. Hundreds of thousands of animals died right away including sea otters, seabirds, bald eagles, harbor seals and orcas. Many animals continued to die later or experience health problems. The company couldn’t hide the problems under their umbrellas though they did try. Oil Spills and NOAA Fisheries focuses on the impacts.

Cleanup measures

The spill led to several different cleanup measures. A private company arrived first and used a mixture that caused the oil to slide off the surface of objects and mix with the water. They didn’t have enough of the product so they were called back. A second cleanup measure involved using an explosion to reduce the amount of oil, but was called off because of bad weather. The company brought it mechanical equipment, but it only worked for a short period of time before becoming clogged. High pressure water hoses forced the oil off the shore and into the water. The Anchorage Daily News and Prince William Sound discuss the cleanup measures.

The Aftermath

The aftermath is carefully looked at by NOAA and Exxon Valdez the Aftermath. Exxon Mobile claimed that no harmful effects were shown on the
environment, though other studies dispute this fact. They claim that the oil spilled still causes problems today in the animal population. Exxon Mobile lost a lawsuit totaling $287 million for damages and several billion dollars in punitive damages. A further investigation into the case found that the master of the ship was quite possibly under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. They also discovered that the crew and the Coast Guard were both partly at fault. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which specified that any vessel involved in an oil spill couldn’t operate in Prince William Sound, came about as result of the spill. The Exxon Valdez was repaired and is still in use today.