Goodbye Exxon Valdes We Won’t Miss You

B. McPherson

The Exxon Valdes oil tanker has been sold to an Indian company and is likely headed for dismantling.

Today is the 23rd anniversary of the grounding of the Exxon Valdes on Bligh Reef in Alaska. It was one of the largest oil spills in North American history releasing nearly 11 million barrels of oil into Prince William Sound and sending an oil slick 470 miles to foul beaches and kill wildlife.

 A jury looking at the circumstances leading up to the grounding on the reef assessed damages at about $5 billion but Exxon in Supreme Court had that reduced to one tenth, about $500 million. Ref.ABC News  Alaska is still waiting for final compensation payments.

In some ways, we should thank Exxon and Captain Joseph Hazelwood for alerting us to the catastrophe that an oil spill wreaks on the environment and the people who live there. Twenty-three years later the once pristine beaches are still fouled.Thick oil lurks just below the surface on the beaches. The rich fishery has not recovered in the more than two decades, neither have the marine mammals and birds.

The west coast of British Columbia is facing a new threat to its waters with the proposed Enbridge Gateway Pipeline. The mega project, if granted permission by Ottawa, would see about 200 supertankers thread past shoals, reefs and islands to enter the twisty Douglas Channel to load up crude at the town of Kitimat.

If the oil pipeline goes ahead, there will be an oil spill that will foul the west coast. All the whiz bang technology in the world cannot overcome human error and negligence.

Circumstances leading up to the grounding convey a series of human errors and disregard for safety regulations. Was it alcohol, crew fatigue, one officer on the bridge when two were required, poor training, poor judgement? All or any one could have led to the disaster.Ref:  Oil Spill Trustee Council State of Alaska

Prior to the Exxon Valdes running aground, the tanker traffic from Valdes, Alaska, had been relatively trouble free. Was the good record until March 24, 1989 a factor in allowing complacency and sloppiness to creep into the operation? We will never know because conflicting crew stories have muddied the truth until it can no longer be seen. Capt. Hazelwood was found not guilty of being drunk while in charge of the vessel.

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