Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Essay, Research Paper
On March 24, 1989 one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history occurred. This spill wasso great, it took over two years to clean up. To this day, Prince William Sound is stillsuffering from the grounding of the Exxon Valdez. “On a windless Spring night in 1989, the two worlds of nature and industry collided”(Carr pg. 0). If you were to go fishing off the shores of Blair Island, you mayrun into a gooey black substance, known as crude oil. “March 24, 1989 just west of Blair Island, the Exxon Valdez tanker ran agroundon a well-charted, well-marked reef about twenty-five miles from the Trans-AlaskaPipeline terminal at Valdez, Alaska”(Piper pg. 1). When the T/V Exxon Valdez hit thereef, the water was covered by oil in a matter of minutes. No one knew this because ithappened in the middle of the night, when it was impossible to see the millions ofgallons of crude oil that leaked into the Sound. The actual distance of the oil thatspread is approx. 1200 miles, roughly from New York to Miami. How could an accident of this size happen? You could blame the accident on anumber of things, but one of the main problems was the captain of the vessel; he had aproblem. He had an addiction to alcohol. Before departing, Captain Joseph Hazel hadstopped at a bar and had a few drinks, and drank more after he had departed. Insteadof ending in the inbound lane, he went on through the inbound lane taking the tankerfurther off course. In one transmission, he mistakenly identified the Exxon Valdezvessel as the Exxon Baton Rouge, and his speech was slurred. “The NationalTransportation s Safety Board concluded that the accident was due to a combination ofbad seamanship, bad judgment, bad management and bad luck. The Alaska Oil Spillcommission later expanded the blame in it’s 1990 findings, concluding that industry waspoorly prepared and the public and political leadership had grown dependent on othersbefore the disaster”(NTSB pg. 1). “One of the U.S. Coast Guard’s responsibility’s is to watch and report any accident immediately. They have proper equipment, such as radars to be able to locatean accident such as an oil spill”(Piper pg. 11). The U.S. coast guard could have seenthe accident on the screen as soon as it happened, but no one even saw it that night,because they were not paying attention. One navigator said, ” There could be nopossible confusion”(Piper pg 1). Somebody wasn’t doing what they were getting paidfor. Maybe if someone had noticed that night they could have been quicker aboutgetting the proper equipment, the man power and a solid plan on how they should goabout stopping the spread of the leak, and where to start clean-up. The clean up teamcould have had a head start on the clean up, but nobody noticed the leak, so they hadan extra two million barrels worth of extra work. “It was not long after the Exxon Valdez hit the rocks that the public becameconfused about who was running the response, and why was the spiller taking control. The public had little confidence in the spill response structure that was forming inAlaska”(Piper pg. 12). To the public’s eye, Captain Joseph Hazel and Exxon were theleading blame, and the government was somewhere in the background. Exxon was nota government agency, therefore not responsible to make the decisions. “The CoastGuard was the coordinator of the effort, but Exxon managers, not the Coast Guard, toldworkers where to go and what to do. People were frustrated and few actually knewand/or understood the national spill response system. The response wasn’t runningsmoothly, but the officials who did understand were working with the existingsystem”(Piper pg. 13). “When Exxon entered the picture in the first days of the spill,they did not follow the Alyeska plan, and later said they followed their own. Whateverplan they were following, if any, it was not a state-approved plan,” said DECCommissioner Dennis Kelso(Kelso pg. 15). People made too much of a deal about who was in charge, when the real problem was that they did not have proper equipment to deal with a spill of that size. Who cares whos in charge, if they have nothing to command? People took toomuch time deciding making unimportant decisions, instead of doing something about the spill. The time they took deciding who would be the boss, couldhave been valuable time used to organize a clean-up plan and actually start cleaning. Alyeska had a big part in this also, since they are responsible for 25% of Americas oil and the navigation control. The state and the federal coordinates decidedthey would carry out with whatever plan was in place at the time. The plan had beendeveloped between 1984-1987. It spelled out how fast Alyeska was to respond tovarious spill scenarios. On March 24-25, Aleska’s response did not take shape the wayit should have. A barge was out of service; equipment was buried under several feet ofsnow; skimmers and other on-the-water response equipment was unavailable. Theclean up was six to eighteen hours behind the response schedule in the plan. Eventually, the plan took shape the way it was designed. Weak planning had a long history. About five years before, Exxon had developed an oil spill plan, just in case of an accident. As time went on, an accidentnever occurred, so Exxon decided they did not need this committee . They put theequipment into storage and did not keep up with an updated plan. Fisherman were ready to help out at any given moment, but nobody coulddecide who would be boss, so time was being wasted. The fisherman in thecommunities were very concerned about their fisheries, were ready to help, but theyhad to remember they were fisherman and not oil spill experts. Boats, with booms stretched between the boats, were trying to halt the oil flowing toward a hatchery. Exxon sent out anchors to hold the booms in place, but they were too light and were easily dragged by the current. An Exxon contractor suggested attaching long lines to the boom, and tying it to the shoreline. It was a
wonderful idea, except the lines broke every hour. The booms were old and out dated. When Exxon finally located some heavy-duty boom, the booms were flown out tothe Mosquito Fleet at the Koernig Hatchery. The Mosquito Fleet was a group of fishingvessels that had a big role in protecting the hatcheries. Even the heavy-duty boomwere stressed to it’s limits. Designed to withstand a one-knot current, it had to beanchored against a three-knot current. It did not break as easily as the lightweightboom, but oil still slopped over the edges. Any oil that got through this boom was metby a second, and then a third ring of containing boom protecting the cove and it’s meshpens full of salmon. Beyond the barriers of anchored booms, fishing boats towedlengths of boom, using it to encircle patches of oil. The fisherman pulled their collectedoil to the large heavy skimmer, which would suck it up. The fisherman also laid out longstrings of absorbent pads to soak up any loose oil. The main goal was to protect thesehatcheries. They did this, and it made the fisherman happy, but they all knew therewas still endless amounts of oil that needed cleaning and moved onto their nextmission. The effects of the Exxon Valdez Oil spill were very, very devastating. Wild life,especially birds and sea otters were barely recognized. Cormorants, auklets, andducks became coated when they dove into the sea to feed. Eagles ingested oil as theyfed upon weakened creatures and contaminated carrion. Spring migration of geese,swan and shorebirds had just begun. A strange oily substance they could not adapt toburned their fur as they struggled to stay afloat. Many otters swam to exhaustion anddrowned. Some managed to crawl ashore, where most of them died of exposure. Along the oiled shorelines, deer grazed on oil-stained seaweed and grass. Bearscoming out of hibernation were seen scavenging among blackened birds and otters that had been washed up on the beaches. This was only a small part of the damage. There were many deaths of sealife that no one witnessed. Meanwhile, dark, oil laden waves surged out across Prince William Sound. The world’s oil spill experts, many of whom gathered by the shores in Valdez, had morespecific ideas about who was to blame than how to save the coves and beaches, theotters and flocks of birds that lay in the path of oil. Oil from the Exxon Valdez was also endangering fisheries. Thousands of marine birds and hundreds of oil soaked sea otters were dying a slow death due to theoil and exposure. Bald eagles were becoming disoriented; many lost their ability to flyand crippled themselves by banging into trees or rocks. Stretches of Alaska’s coastlinewere becoming covered with oil. Of all the injured parties, it was nature that paid thehighest price. Thick, black, and deadly, the oil slick exacted a terrible toll (Carr pg. 0). Through the early days of this disaster, state and federal agencies were scrambling todetermine what they should do and what authority and resources they had to fight theoil with. Along with the birds, otters, and eagles, the people of Valdez, Cordova, andother places along Prince William Sound also suffered. It made people very sad to seethe wildlife dying so rapidly. No one knew what to do. People were sad and anxious; noone was prepared for what had happened. The effort put into saving the wildlife in Alaska was great. Specialists were flownup from around the world to help do what was possible to save wildlife. To save Marinebirds, Alyeska had called to California, for the International Bird rescue ResearchCenter, to help rescue oiled birds. The first thing they needed was water softeners. Finally, after a month, Exxon had them sent, so the oiled seabirds could be put throughthe cleaning process. Before being cleaned, each bird was force-fed fluids through atube to counteract dehydration. The birds were placed in warm water with detergentand gently scrubbed until the water was dirty. Then the bird was moved to another tubof warm water and detergent and scrubbed until that water was dirty. So it goes, bathafter bath, sometimes more than ten washings, depending on how oily the bird was. The last step was rinsing the feathers with a high-pressure hose. Some birds wereready to be returned to the sound after just twenty four hours, but this would be a risk,because the bird would probably return to their home and be re-oiled. They kept thebirds in captivity, which caused a few deaths because of contagious diseases. The effort to save the sea otters was a great one also. The people of Cordovamissed the sounds of wildlife and wanted to be woken by the sounds of these animalsonce again. Otters found dead on the beaches were all curled up. You would see aglob of oil out their other end, by the anus. Some of the otters still alive were blind orbrain damaged. The fumes had ruined the animal’s central nervous systems. Whenthe otters arrived at the rescue center, volunteers immediately scrubbed oil from theotters’ fur. After an initial examination, the otters were put into small plastic airlinekennel cages, makeshift intensive-care units where handlers would watch them twentyfour hours a day. Many otters died within a few days. Those that did autopsies ondead otters learned that many otters suffered from internal injuries. The otter’s lungswere burned out, they had liver and kidney damage, and some had ulcers in theirdigestive tracts from ingesting oil. Even with the great effort to save the otters, manydid not survive. The lives of people and animals were greatly affected by the Valdez Exxon Oilspill. Not only were the animals greatly harmed, but the citizen’s trust in Alyeska,Exxon, and the federal government has also been harmed. “Thanks to badseamanship, and poor planning, a tragedy occurred and the people of Prince WilliamSound had a great price to pay”(Piper pg. 1). Hopefully, the party responsible, whoeverthat may be, has learned a valuable lesson from this accident and will take the propersteps to assure that this will not happen again without the proper alert team, equipment,and dedication needed to clean up a spill of this size.