By Joe Bongiovanni
Oil spills, chemical leaks, and other human caused environmental disasters seem to be occurring with greater frequency. And although each incident is a “learning opportunity” for prevention, it seems like most large corporations just look at this as a cost of doing business. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill was one of the largest environmental disasters in United States history and outraged the public. It occurred on March 24, 1989 when an oil tanker hit the Bligh Reef off of Alaska and spilled over 11 million gallons of crude oil into the water.
The Exxon Valdez left the Trans-Alaska Pipeline terminal shortly after 9pm on March, 23 1989 and made its way to California. Captain Joe Hazelwood directed the helmsman to maneuver outside of the shipping lanes in order to avoid icebergs. The current helmsman was instructed to turn back towards the shipping lane after reaching a point designated by Captain Hazelwood to avoid the edge of Bligh Reef. He then left the Third Mate in charge and retired from the wheelhouse. The helmsman was replaced shortly after that and the replacement pilot failed to make the course correction in time. As a result, the Exxon Valdez ran aground and 8 of its 11 tanks began to leak oil.
This oil spill was the largest in history and was completely unprecedented. The remote location of the spill also cause complications to cleanup efforts. An army of over ten thousand workers, one thousand boats, and about 100 aircraft spent four summers cleaning up affected beaches before the cleanup was finally called off. Exxon reports that costs exceeded 2.1 billion dollars at the time of its conclusion. A number of techniques were used in an attempt to clean up the spill, including hot water treatment, high pressure cold water treatment, mechanical cleanup, chemical dispersant agents, bioremediation, and oil burns. According to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, “The carcasses of more than 35,000 birds and 1,000 sea otters were found after the spill, but since most carcasses sink, this is considered to be a small fraction of the actual death toll. The best estimates are: 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs.”
Despite the enormous cost of the accident, both financially and environmentally, some positive reforms resulted from increased public pressure. The United States Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 as a direct result of the spill. It contains a gradual phase in of a safer double hull design for all oil tankers by 2015. The act is partially responsible for successfully preventing any other oil spills exceeding 1 million gallons in US waters. Separately from the Oil Pollution Act, the Coast Guard implemented changes to improve its vessel traffic system and Alaska now requires an escort of two tug boats for all tankers passing though the Prince William Sound.
The lessons learned from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill may comfort some, but recent spills like the one in Lake Michigan give a harsh reality of how little has changed. Angel Water is dedicated to ensuring the cleanest and safest Drinking Water for all of our clients. Call (847) 382-7800 today and see how we can help you!