Technology and innovation - Exxon Co. A case study

On march 24, 1989 the Exxon Valdez, a large oil tanker captained by Joseph Hazelwood, crashed onto Bligh Reef spilling about 11 million gallons of oil into prince William sound destroying Alaska and it’s wildlife. The captain, Joseph Hazelwood, is said to have been intoxicated causing an inexperienced crew member to take the wheel. After the Exxon Valdez had run aground the crew tried to free the ship causing the hull to rip and oil to pour out of the ship’s cargo hold. The crew was unknowing of how or what to do next. When they decided to try to clean the waters from oil it was discovered that the equipment would and did not work.

The oil spill was eventually called into the coastguard, but response was slow and there was a lack of preparation for a spill as large as the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez. By looking at specific information such as captain and crew, faulty equipment, and lack of preparation, it is clear to see that Exxon is responsible for this catastrophe. Exxon is partially responsible through Captain Joseph Hazelwood because at the time of the crash it is said that Hazelwood was intoxicated.

He, as was said, has had a drinking problem for years now. One of the crew members, Joel Roberson, had told about a time when he was summoned to Hazelwood. Hazelwood had invited the her radio officer to the ship’s lounge “to destroy a bottle”(Mauer 9). Hazelwood had attended the Pipeline Club in Valdez, Alaska, and drank a few too many vodkas. It was said that while crew members were busy watching a video Hazelwood had pulled out a bottle out of his jacket and started mixing drinks. Roberson also commented on the bottle and it’s contents saying that “the liquor was ‘clear,’ possibly vodka”(Mauer 10). His blood alcohol content was found to be at the high point of .061.

On the night of the tragic accident Hazelwood had decided to leave Third Mate Gregory Cousins in charge of the wheel. He also appointed Robert Kagan at the helm with instructions to return to the shipping lane at an already planed point. As a result of his poor decisions the United States Coast Guard suspended his license for nine months.

Hazelwood also received felony charges, but was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of negligent discharge of oil. In the end Hazelwood was fined $50,000 and was also sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service while his crew served a lesser punishment. Captain Hazelwood had left his crew members in charge of the oil tanker while he was unable to command the ship.

The ship operating while in violation of company rules, its crew working with little sleep and questionable competence. The crew had put in more overtime hours then had been reported to the Coast Guard. Cousins, who was in charge of the wheel, is said to have had little sleep before taking the place as Hazelwood’s replacement. Investigators Eric Sager and Daniel Raskin reported that “Cousins got about four hours of sleep after bringing in the ship before he was woken at 5:20 a.m. to assume his watch. He didn't have a chance to nap until around 1:30 p.m. March 24.”(Mauer 17).

Cousins was suppose to be relived at midnight, but he had let the second mate, LeCain, get some extra rest which only tired out Cousins more. The sleep of the crew was suddenly shattered after midnight when the Exxon Valdez crashed into Bligh Reef. Proper preparation would have prevented this from ever happening. The ship was in no way prepared for the oil spill that had occurred in the morning of March 24th. One way they were not prepared is how the ship was designed. A double hull would have slowed or prevented the oil spill. By slowing the oil spill the crew would have had more time to respond and try to contain the oil instead of letting it spill quickly into the waters.

If the ship would have had a double hull about half of the 11 million gallons of oil would have been spilt. Although another case states that a Coast Guard reported “That building tankers with double bottoms makes them more vulnerable to leakage when involved in collisions” (Whitney 5). Another design of the ship would have caused more damage in a major leakage, but there would have been no oil spilled when the tanker hit the reef.

By landing on Bligh Reef the oil tanker had spilled over 11 million gallons of oil and the clean up would be difficult.The response plan or team to react to the spill is Alyeska which is the oil spill clean up plan for any and all spills in Alaska. The teams were not prepared to respond quickly, they were not prepared for a spill of Exxon Valdez’s size.

According to the plan, Alyeska would not be at the spill site immediately, instead it took the group five hours to show up. By the time Alyeska had shown to the site it was already too late and the oil had spread across the water and onto the land. “The weather was uncooperative” (Crowey ) that night and the day to follow. At the time of the spill the harsh waves moved the oil quickly, spreading it as fast as the waves could carry it. When clean up was possible the weather had calmed and so had the water.

The calm water and lack of waves was working against the chemical clean up possibilities of dispirits and bio-remediation. Prince Williams Sound’s shores had turned into a black barren land the only represented death and suffering. There is only one culprit responsible for this horror and that is Exxon. They had not taken the time or money to insure that the oil would arrive at it’s destination safely. Capitan Joseph Hazelwood had an obvious drink problem and had proved it in past experiences, but Exxon still hired him. The company had also choosing a single hull model over a safer, more efferent, model. Exxon should have tried to prevent this disaster before it had the chance to happen.