Essay, Research Paper: Exxon Valdez

Environment

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On March 24, 1989 at 4 minutes past midnight, the oil tanker ExxonValdez struck
a reef in Alaska's breath-taking Prince William Sound. Instantaneously, the
quiet waters of the sound became a sea of black. "We've fetched up - ah -
hard aground north of Goose Island off Bligh Reef, and - ah - evidently leaking
some oil," Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the ship, radioed the Coast Guard
Marine Safety Office back in Valdez. That "some oil" turned out to be
a total of 11,000,000 gallons of crude oil leaking from the ruptured hull of the
ship. By the time a containment effort was put forth, a weather storm had helped
to spread the oil as much as three feet thick across 1,400 miles of beaches. A
little over ten years have passed since the largest oil spill and the greatest
environmental disaster in American history, but the waters and its surroundings
are still recovering. At first, many people repeated what was then thought as
common knowledge, "oil dissipates, nature heals quickly, all will be well
in a year or two." This has not been the case with the Exxon Valdez. This
massive 987-foot tanker has left a lingering, long-term effect on the natural
habitat that surrounds these pristine waters, along with an enormous
socio-economic effect that has left many people wondering when and where the
next oil spill will be. Many associated with the recovery process, and its more
than one hundred projects per year, say it will take longer than a human
lifetime to determine if a full recovery is possible (Fine 1999). RESULTS AND
DISCUSSION The Exxon Valdez oil spill was initially thought of as a two to three
year clean-up project. As time went ahead, scientists and clean-up crews
realized that it would take a longer period of time and require a lot more
effort than originally planned. Up to this point, the oil has contaminated a
national forest, four wildlife refuges, three national parks, five state parks,
four "critical habitat areas" and a state game sanctuary, which
spreads along 1,400 miles of the Alaskan shoreline. Recent scientific studies
show that the oil continues to wreak havoc among many spawning salmon, herring,
and other species of fish. This is even more devastating when considering that
much of the wildlife around the sound is dependant on the high calorie, high fat
content of the herring as their prime food source. Among the many casualties
were 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald eagles, as many as 22 killer
whales, and an estimated quarter-million seabirds. It is unclear how many
billions of salmon and herring eggs and intertidal plants succumbed to the oil
smothering. Within an ecosystem, each living thing depends on other living
things. That means that when the fish died in Prince William Sound, there was
less food for the seals that normally eat them. As those seals died, there was
less food for the killer whales that eat seals (Knickerbocker 1999). This has
led to a domino effect within the food chain, victimizing many of the animals
surrounding the area. Intertidal mussel beds are still contaminated to this day.
Twenty-three species of wildlife were effected by this oil spill, and only two
species, the bald eagle and the river otter, have fully recovered. The species
that are well on their way to a comeback include pink salmon, Pacific herring,
sea otters, mussels, black oyster catcher, common murre, marbled murrelet, and
sockeye salmon. As with any environmental disasters, there are some animals that
are showing little or no clear improvement since the spill occurred. This group
includes harbour seals, killer whales, harlequin ducks, common loons,
cormorants, and the pigeon gullomot. In some areas, that have been hardest hit
by the oil spill, many of the species have an elevated level of mortality. Even
though the Exxon Valdez is the most-studied oil spill in world history, it is
also a particularly difficult one to research because of the lack of baseline
data on the ecology of Prince William Sound (Birkland 1998). Among all the
animal casualties, there is another victim, people. Thousands have been forced
to bare the consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Throughout the years,
the waters of Alaska have provided families with a living, but the oil spill
changed that. Fisherman in Cordova and other nearby cities surrounding the Gulf
of Alaska have struggled with scarce catches. Some Alaskan natives still depend
on seal meat for food. And fishing is a source of income for many Alaskan
families. As some fish and seal species continue to struggle 10 years after the
spill, so do the people who depend on them (Knickerbocker 1999). Many of the
people that used these waters as a source of income have not been able to cope
with the scarce catches, thus forcing more and more people to apply for
unemployment and other welfare system benefits. A study completed by Steven
Picou, a sociologist from the University of South Alabama, has also shown that
the people who have been affected by the oil spill have been traumatized and
suffer from bouts of depression. There are high rates of alcoholism and social
ills that can be directly linked to the Exxon Valdez. Although many have fallen
victim to the oil spill, Exxon, the owner of the Exxon Valdez was not held
unaccountable. Within the first two years, Exxon had paid nearly $2.1 billion on
clean up and another $1 billion in damages to Alaska and the United States in
the form of civil and criminal fines. Also the captain, Joseph Hazelwood, was
also charged with, but later acquitted of, operating the ship while intoxicated;
although the validity of the blood tests given by Captain Hazelwood have been
questioned. Along with the $3 billion spent in clean up and fines, Exxon was
also ordered to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, which it has managed to fend
off through ongoing appeals. Not much good comes out of a story as tragic as the
Exxon Valdez, but there have been some benefits. On August 18, 1990, eighteen
months after the oil spill, the Federal Oil Pollution Act (OPA) was passed. The
OPA of 1990 ended a fourteen-year deadlock over how to improve oil laws. This
act is summarized by the fact it allows the government to act much quicker upon
notification of an oil spill and holds oil companies accountable for all
financial liabilities. This in turn has forced companies to review their oil
policies and procedures and implement safer ways to transport oil. The OPA has
also introduced many standards and regulations such as: i) ships are to have
double hulls as of the year 2015, ii) increase training for crew, and iii) an
increase in the development of equipment and ships that respond to oil spills.
The OPA has also established a $1 billion liability fund, which will be paid by
the oil industry. Along with the OPA of 1990, the Exxon Valdez is also
responsible for the creation of two Regional Citizen's Advisory Councils, one,
which operates from Cook Inlet and the other from Prince William Sound. These
councils are funded solely by assessments that are made on the oil industry. The
councils include a number of local interest groups and present views from all
aspects of the general population. Since these councils have access to capital,
they have the ability to fund research and projects that allow them to play big
roles in the formation of government policies. CONCLUSION In regards to oil
spills, they are best summarized by this….so long as there are ships, and
humans steering them, accidents will happen, and maybe huge ones (Knickerbocker
1999). Much is to be said on the cause and effect of the Exxon Valdez oil spill,
but since we cannot turn back time to correct our mistakes, we must see the
brighter side of every picture. Some of the wildlife have made a full recovery,
and coupled with the fact that some have almost fully recovered, the ecology of
sound could reach its pre-oil spill level. Also, money that was paid by Exxon in
fines was used to make numerous parks, trails, and used in the protection of
forests. The Exxon Valdez oil spill also led to the formation of the Oil
Pollution Act of 1990, which broke a fourteen-year deadlock between the House
and the Senate. None of these events would have occurred, had it not been for
that fateful oil spill. Researchers now have a better understanding of the
impact of cleanup and how hydrocarbons--the building blocks of oil--affect
certain species (Birkland 1999 ). But with that said, society will always
remember the horrific images of oil drenched birds, and beaches smothered with
oil and one has to wonder, "Will this happen again?." The answer we
long to hear is "Never", but accidents are bound to happen. Recently,
the freighter New Carissa ran aground on the Oregan Coast and gave officials
there numerous problems the likes of which included oil spillage. So when you
ask yourself, "How did the New Carissa run aground and leak oil with all
these new rules and regulations," the image of another Exxon Valdez oil
spill isn't to hard imagine. BIBLIOGRAPHY Birkland, Thomas A. 1998. In the Wake
of the Exxon Valdez. Environment 40:4-11. Davidson, Art. 1990. In the Wake of
the Exxon Valdez. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books. Economist 1999. Stains
That Remain. Economist 350:35. Fine, Doug 1999. Exxon Valdez: An Anniversary to
Celebrate?. Sports Afield 221:12. Holloway, Marguerite 1999. Oil In Water.
Scientific American 280:38. Keeble, John. 1991. Out of the Channel. New York,
NY: HarperCollins Publisher. Knickerbocker, Brad. 1999. Preventing Another
Monster Oil Slick. Christian Science Monitor 91:13. Knickerbocker, Brad. 1999.
The Big Spill. Christian Science Monitor 91:1. Time for Kids 1999. After the
Spill. Time for Kids 4:4.

Bibliography
Birkland, Thomas A. 1998. In the Wake of the Exxon Valdez. Environment
40:4-11. Davidson, Art. 1990. In the Wake of the Exxon Valdez. San Francisco,
CA: Sierra Club Books. Economist 1999. Stains That Remain. Economist 350:35.
Fine, Doug 1999. Exxon Valdez: An Anniversary to Celebrate?. Sports Afield
221:12. Holloway, Marguerite 1999. Oil In Water. Scientific American 280:38.
Keeble, John. 1991. Out of the Channel. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publisher.
Knickerbocker, Brad. 1999. Preventing Another Monster Oil Slick. Christian
Science Monitor 91:13. Knickerbocker, Brad. 1999. The Big Spill. Christian
Science Monitor 91:1. Time for Kids 1999. After the Spill. Time for Kids 4:4.
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