The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Analysis

Whats an oil spill ?Oil spills happen when people make mistakes or are careless and cause an oil tanker to leak oil into the ocean. There are a few more ways an oil spill can occur. Equipment breaking down may cause an oil spill. If the equipment breaks down, the tanker may get stuck on shallow land. When they start to drive the tanker again, they can put a hole in the tanker causing it to leak oil.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill:On March 24, 1989 at 4 minutes past midnight, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Alaska’s spectacular Prince William Sound. An environmental nightmare began that changed not only Prince William Sound, but the world. No longer would people blindly believe promises from corporations that their operations were completely safe. It is considered one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters ever to occur at sea. As significant as the Valdez spill was, it ranks well down on the list of the world’s largest oil spills in terms of volume released.

The region was a habitat for salmon, sea otters, seals and seabirds. The vessel spilled 10.8 million U.S. gallons of Prudhoe Bay crude oil into the sea, and the oil eventually covered 11,000,000 square miles of ocean. According to official reports, the ship was carrying 54.1 million U.S. gallons of oil, of which 10.8 million U.S.gallons were spilled into the Prince William Sound. This figure has become the consensus estimate of the spill’s volume. Some groups dispute the official estimates, maintaining that the volume of the spill has been underreported.


Both the long and short-term effects of the oil spill have been studied comprehensively. The death toll in terms of wildlife was staggering, the full impact may never be known. Thousands of animals died immediately; the best estimates include 250,000 to as many as 500,000 seabirds, at least 1,000 sea otters, approximately 12 river otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, and 22 orcas, as well as the destruction of billions of salmon and herring eggs

.The effects of the spill continue to be felt today. Overall reductions in population have been seen in various ocean animals, including stunted growth in pink salmon populations. Sea otters and ducks also showed higher death rates in following years, partially because they ingested prey from contaminated soil and from ingestion of oil residues on hair due to grooming.

Almost 20 years after the spill, a team of scientists at the University of North Carolina found that the effects are lasting far longer than expected. The team estimates some shoreline Arctic habitats may take up to 30 years to recover. However, a study from scientists from NOAA concluded that this contamination is decreasing the “wilderness character” of the area. Also many people complained about the large amount of sea otters dumped in crude oil because Prince William Sound was a tourist attraction. Many people came to Prince William Sound to visit the animals.

Cleanup measures:

Because the spill impacted 1,300 miles, it took the Exxon Valdez Company four summers to clean up the spill. • The first cleanup response was through the use of a dispersant, a surfactant and solvent mixture. A private company applied dispersant on March 24 with a helicopter and dispersant bucket.

Because there was not enough wave action to mix the dispersant with the oil in the water, the use of the dispersant was discontinued. One trial explosion was also conducted during the early stages of the spill, in a region of the spill isolated from the rest by another explosion. The test was relatively successful, reducing 113,400 litres of oil to 1,134 litres of removable residue, but because of unfavorable weather no additional burning was attempted in this cleanup effort.

• Mechanical cleanup was started shortly afterwards using booms and skimmers, but the skimmers were not readily available during the first 24 hours following the spill, and thick oil and kelp tended to clog the equipment. Exxon was widely criticized for its slow response to cleaning up the disaster. More than 11,000 Alaska residents, along with some Exxon employees, worked throughout the region to try to restore the environment.

Some oil may still remain on the beaches. It took 10,000 workers, 1,000 boats, 100 airplanes, and the Navy, Army, and Air Force to clean up the spill. Exxon spent about $2.1 billion for the clean up. Despite the extensive cleanup attempts, a study conducted by NOAA determined that as of early 2007 more than 26 thousand U.S. gallons of oil remain in the sandy soil of the contaminated shoreline, declining at a rate of less than 4% per year.

Cost and benefit:

The consequences for Exxon of its two-pronged disaster – the spill and its environmental consequences, alongside its disastrous communications – were enormous. The spill cost around $7bn, including the clean up costs. $5bn of this was made up of the largest punitive fines ever handed out to a company for corporate irresponsibility. The damage to the company’s reputation was even more important, and more difficult to quantify. However, Exxon lost market share and slipped from being the largest oil company in the world to the third largest. The “Exxon Valdez” entered the language as a shortcut for corporate arrogance and damage


The features that made Exxon’s handling of the crisis a failure included the following: • The company failed to show that they had effective systems in place to deal with the crisis – and in particular their ability to move quickly once the problem had occurred was not in evidence • They showed little leadership after the event in showing their commitment to ensuring such problems would never happen again • They quite simply gave no evidence that they cared about what had happened. They appeared indifferent to the environmental destruction.