Photo above: President Ronald Reagan. Courtesy Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, Naval Photographic Center. Right: IBM PC circuitboard for the 5150. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.
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1989 - Detail
March 24, 1989 - The Exxon Valdez crashes into Bligh Reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound, causing the largest oil spill in American history, eleven million gallons, which extended forty-five miles.
The waters along Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound were pristine when the single hull tanker Exxon Valdez hit the reef and spilled eleven million gallons of oil into the water. Captain Hazelwood, who had been honored the two years prior for exemplary service, was in command, but below deck, and held responsible for the spill, but the events that led to the disaster dated much further back than those two years.
In 1968, Atlantic Richfield and Humble Oil (the forerunner to Exxon) had found the rich oil fields at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and requested a pipeline be built to Valdez, Alaska, where tankers would ship the oil around the world. When the oil embargo of 1973 occurred, permits were issued to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to Valdez; four years later the first tanker would leave that port. Complacency within the pipeline authority reigned after four years of positive service. In 1981, the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company disbanded its oil response team. It would not prove to be a prudent decision, with warnings in the coming years by Alaska State officials that there was little preparedness or equipment to handle a significant spill.
On December 11, 1986, the single hull tanker Exxon Valdez, nine hundred and eighty-seven feet long, was delivered to the port and put into service. For the next two years, it, and its captain Joseph Hazelwood, were lauded. Alyeska contended it has the ability to handle a major oil spill and responded to two minor spills at the port city. Those spill caused Alyeska to agree to update its fleet by 1990.
How the Spill Occurred
The Exxon Valdez reached port on March 22, 1989, pulling into Berth 5. It loaded fifty-three million barrels of crude oil bound for Long Beach, California. By nine o'clock on March 23, it left Valdez and headed south.
The crew was reported to have been overworked and smaller than previous trips, something after action reports identified. The ship's captain, Joseph Hazelwood, had been drinking and sleeping in his bunk when the tanker would collide with the reef. He had ordered the third mate to man the helm, but the third mate failed to negotiate the water around the reef as investigators reported due to the lack of checking his radar, which was broken. It had been broken for over a year with Exxon Shipping refusing to fix it due to the high cost.
Just after midnight the next day, 12:04 a.m., the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef with the third mate at the helm, and spilled 10.9 million barrels of oil into the sound. Over the coming days, the oil would spread to one thousand three hundred miles of coastline and eleven thousand square miles of ocean. Response plans, as warned, were inadequate. The remote location made marshalling of government and envirnmental forces difficult.
Aftermath of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
The cleanup of the oil spill took eleven thousand government employees and Alaska residents to clean up, although more than twenty thousand gallons of oil residue would remain (through 2010) even after the official cleanup had been completed. More than one hundred thousand seabirds, two thousand eight hundred sea otters, two hundred and forty-seven bald eagles, three hundred harbor seals, and twenty-two orcas were killed. Exxon spent in excess of two billion dollars on the cleanup effort and faced ligitation and paid damage claims for years.
On August 18, 1990, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 became law. Part of that act required that all new tankers and tank barges would be built with two hulls, thus reducing the likelihood of another spill. Also, by January 1, 2015, all oil tankers in the United States waters were required to be double hull. There would be no more single hull tankers allowed.
What happened to the Exxon Valdez? It was towed to San Diego and repaired at the cost of thirty million dollars. It left port in June of 1990 renamed the Exxon S/R Mediterranean. Prevented from ever again entering Prince William Sound, the ship served the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Orient for Exxon and its subsidiary. Eventually it was sold to a Hong Kong company in 2008. It was renamed again, first as the Dang Fang Ocean, then later as the Oriental Nicety. The ship came to an end in 2012 after serving as a bulk ore carrier. It was beached on August 2, 2012 in India and dismantled.
Photo above: Exxon Valdez at Bligh Reef, March 24, 1989, Coast Guard. Courtesy NOAA.gov. Photo below: Boats skimming oil off Pugent Sound with whales in the water, 1989, State of Alaska, Dan Lawn. Photo courtesy NOAA.gov. Info source: Wikipedia Commons; National Ocean Service, Office of Response and Restoration.