Cause of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Free Paper Sample

Published: 2022-03-29
Cause of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Free Paper Sample
Type of paper:  Dissertation chapter
Categories:  Ecology Pollution Disaster
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1791 words
15 min read

The Exxon Valdez oil spill is perhaps the most significant catastrophe in the United States. Although a large portion of the spillage area recovered from the incident, tracts of crude oil are still traceable in other affected areas. The cause of the oil spill dates back in Alaska 1989 when the Exxon Valdez, an oil supertanker, stuck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. According to Jones, Jones, and Phillips-Patrick (1994), the incident resulted in the spillage of about 10 million gallons of crude oil. The effect of the damage was catastrophic since the oil went on to spread over 3,000 miles across the coastline's splendid and natural beauty. The oil spill, the remoteness of the location as well as the nature of the event tested the preparedness in such occurrences and response competencies. Collectively, the government and the industrial plans proved unsuccessful in controlling the magnitude of the oil spillage following the Exxon Valdez incident.

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Impacts of the Oil Spill

Impact on the Environment

The effect of the oil spill on the environment was immense. The severity of the disaster had various outcomes which were dependent on the weather conditions, geographical location, the life-forms affected and the nature of the habitat. Ideally, most of the conditions that were existent throughout the Exxon Valdez incident increased in comparison to other oil spills. The oil spill on the shores affected marine life and birds.

Effect on marine life and birds.

Oil has an adverse impact on sea creatures. The immediate effects of the oil spill on marine creatures and birds were not quite apparent. However, days after the disaster revealed a perilous outcome on the marine life and other sea creatures. Statistics undertaken by the National Wildlife Federation established a death toll which amounted to 100,000 sea creatures as well as more than 250,000 seabirds (Wolfe et al., 1994). Among the seabirds which were affected included over 500 harbor seals and bald eagle. Other marine creatures such as whales and ducks suffered from the oil spill, thus reducing their population. Moreover, more than 2,000 sea otters and 1,200 birds did not survive the aftermath of the oil spill. The areas rich biota was also significantly reduced because of decreased survivability. A study on the Prince William Sound alone revealed a loss of more than 50% of the total species.

Economic Impact

Food supply.

The oil spill also had a negative effect on the fishing industry in Alaska. A majority of the fisheries trading in crabs, rockfish, salmon, and sablefish were closed throughout the 1990s. The devastating effects of the oil spill led to the drastic reduction of Salmon and Herring species that were very common at the time. Consequently, it led to the collapse of the commercial fishing industry that was heavily dependent on the species. Fall, Miraglia, Simeone, Utermohle, and Wolfe (2001) posit that more than 10,000 subsistence permit holders were affected by the loss of fish through contamination following the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The aftermath of the disaster is still persistent in the contemporary world since many people are afraid to consume fish from the water body for fear of contamination.


Recreational activities in Prince William Sound had witnessed positive growth before the Exxon oil spill. It was reported that the port received an average of 90 ship visits annually during the 1980s. The figure represented an estimated 1.7 million guests every year for recreational activities (Cohen, 1993). One of the most famous tourist attractions was the Kenai Fjords National Park located in Prince William Sound. The park was endowed with beautiful scenery which stemmed from its wilderness stature.

According to Cohen (1993), the oil spill affected the tourism and recreation due to inconveniences in transportation and water pollution. The industrial sector in Alaska reported an increase in cancellation of tourist bookings after the incident. A report compiled by Hall, Carstenson, and Stammerjohan (2014) established that the tourism industry experienced a loss of more than $2 billion after the catastrophic event. Additionally, more than 25,000 individuals in the industry lost their businesses since the oil spill turned many tourists away. Although the industry showed signs of recovery by 2003, it is projected catastrophe resulted in the accumulation of more than $3 billion in financial losses (Hall, Carstenson, & Stammerjohan, 2014).

Social Impact

Native homes.

Research conducted by Dyer, Gill, and Picou (1992) established that the Exxon Valdez had negative implications on the existence of native villages such as Chenega and Tatitlek situated on the shorelines of Prince William Sound. Ideally, the villagers depended on the fish and animals that inhabited the shores and the mainland. Subsequently, the existence of the people's culture heavily relied on these creatures for their survival. The oil spill resulted in the death of fish and animals because of water pollution. The outcome resulted in immense fiscal losses due to the reduction in food resources which were either sold or used as subsistence for homes. Despite the cleanup efforts by the government, which enhanced employment opportunities for some of the locals, a majority of them left citing deprived living conditions. Consequently, it led to the disassociation of societal members.

Technological Impact

New technologies.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill resulted in the development of new technologies to enhance disaster management efforts in similar occurrences. The oil spill arose at the moment in time when technology was in its infancy. Ideally, a majority of public and private research failed to focus on strategies aimed to improve cleanup technology for combating oil spills. Unpreparedness in mitigation strategies in Prince William Sound along with poor response necessitated the calls for improvement in the technological sector (Tyler, 1992). Since the disaster in Alaska, the US government has developed several technological types of equipment that can mitigate a 10-million gallon oil spill in a water resource.

Cleaning Practices, Problems, and Challenges

Cleaning practices


Immediately after the oil spill, Exxon Company requested for a permit from the state of government of Alaska to approve burning of the spilled oil. Skinner and Reilly (1989) posit that the firm received positive news when the state accepted their request the following day. The state government authorized an effective test that would allow burning of the leaked oil on condition that all safety condition were observed. The test was conducted during the evening in which more than 15,000 gallons of oil were burned. However, some differences between the state government and Exxon Company emerged primarily relating to the strategy's success. Skinner and Reilly (1989) also assert that the outcome of burning process was quite satisfactory though several questions were raised regarding the residual smoke.


The implementation of dispersants was quite controversial since several individuals were cautious of its effect on the environment. During the cleanup process, the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) used two varying dispersant use strategies to mitigate the oil spill. According to Skinner and Reilly (1989), the individual strategies were applied based on the periodic and topographical boundaries. These were designated as zones 1 and 2. Minutes after the oil spill, the OSC contracted Alyeska to provide cleanup efforts through the use of dispersants. The request proposed the use of aircraft and helicopters to spray more than 50,000 gallons of dispersants across the affected region (Skinner & Riley, 1989).The application of dispersants was aimed to create a dispersion effect on the oil layer.

Trial applications of the dispersant were conducted by the Regional Response Team (RRT) in zone 1 after receiving authorization from the OSC. However, full application of the same in zone 2 depended on the outcome of previous tests. Four trials were conducted using a fixed-wing aircraft and over 5,000 gallons of dispersant. Skinner and Reilly (1989) posit that the increased wave action was necessary for the creation of a mixing action to enhance the dispersant's effectiveness. Application of the dispersants was canceled following command by the OSC after the oil shifted to an unauthorized area.

Mechanical recovery.

The implementation of mechanical recovery was the favored method of removing oil from the affected resources without contamination through the use of chemicals. According to Skinner and Reilly (1989), this method of oil removal uses several recovery equipments that include containment vessels, skimmers, and booms. Skimmers were simply machinery that enabled extraction of oil from water. These devices were quite difficult to operate thus required a lot of attention to detail. During operation, the skimmers were subjected to affected areas using aircraft to enhance greater efficiency. Ideally, the effectiveness of these machines was dependent on the type and state of oil extracted. Other components of the mechanical recovery system facilitated transportation and storage of the recovered oil.

Problems and Challenges

In the application of dispersants, only 10% of the requested dispersant was available for use at the time of the request. Other sources of dispersants were only available in Kenai and Anchorage. Consequently, the RRT had no option than to conduct regular tests using the available dispersant in Zone 1 before shifting to zone 2 that was closer to the spill site (Skinner & Riley, 1989). The trial tests consumed a lot of time since a single fixed-wing aircraft was used for the entire process. Moreover, the calm water and light winds were a hindrance to the efficiency of using dispersants. The diminishing sun rays barred completion of the tests in the affected zones, and the calm nature of the water and winds measuring less than 15 knots had little or no dispersion effect on the water. Consequently, the situation complicated cleanup efforts using dispersants.

Exxon's strategy to burn oil also encountered challenges particularly regarding the effect of the smoke. Several residents occupying the affected regions experienced irritation on their throats and eyes. Although no tests were conducted further, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) concluded that it did not oppose the decision to burn oil since no human life was put at risk and that members of the community were already notified about the activity. Additionally, the changing weather patterns hindered effective burning of the spilled oil in the affected zones.

The assembling of mechanical recovery equipment required intensive labor and was also time-consuming. The assembly of booms and skimmers used more than ten skilled personnel who were tasked with attaching, setting and tending. Tyler (1992) asserts that booms were towed with caution because of their delicate state. The limited personnel to coordinate the deployment of skimmers resulted in days of inactivity since a lot of time was consumed in assembling the assembling the machinery. A report by Carpenter, Dragnich, and Smith (1991) established that issue were constantly encountered during assembling of skimmers with gear boxes. The corrective process consumed over 10 hours including transportation of the faulty parts to Valdez for repairs.

Deployment of skimmers was also a time-consuming process. The situation was caused by the low number of personnel as well as the delicate nature of the equipment. Time consumption was also compounded by the nature of oil spill. The extraction process was made difficult because some sections of the spilled oil meant...

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