How the US dealt with the Exxon Valdez oil spill

August 26, 2006

ON March 24, 1989, shortly after midnight, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling more than 11 million gallons of crude oil. The spill was the largest in U.S. history and tested the abilities of local, national, and industrial organizations to prepare for, and respond to, a disaster of such magnitude. Many factors complicated the cleanup efforts following the spill. The size of the spill and its remote location, accessible only by helicopter and boat, made government and industry efforts difficult and tested existing plans for dealing with such an event.

The spill posed threats to the delicate food chain that supports Prince William Sound’s commercial fishing industry. Also in danger were ten million migratory shore birds and waterfowl, hundreds of sea otters, dozens of other species, such as harbor porpoises and sea lions, and several varieties of whales.

Since the incident occurred in open navigable waters, the U.S. Coast Guard’s On-Scene Coordinator had authority for all activities related to the cleanup effort. His first action was to immediately close the Port of Valdez to all traffic. A U.S. Coast Guard investigator, along with a representative from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, visited the scene of the incident to assess the damage. By noon on Friday, March 25, the Alaska Regional Response Team was brought together by teleconference, and the National Response Team was activated soon thereafter.

Alyeska, the association that represents seven oil companies who operate in Valdez, including Exxon, first assumed responsibility for the cleanup, in accordance with the area’s contingency planning. Alyeska opened an emergency communications center in Valdez shortly after the spill was reported and set up a second operations center in Anchorage, Alaska.

The Coast Guard quickly expanded its presence on the scene, and personnel from other Federal agencies also arrived to help. EPA specialists in the use of experimental bioremediation technologies assisted in the spill cleanup and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was involved in providing weather forecasts for Prince William Sound, allowing the cleanup team to adapt their methods to changing weather conditions. Specialists from the Hubbs Marine Institute in San Diego, California, set up a facility to clean oil from otters, and the International Bird Research Center of Berkeley, California, established a center to clean and rehabilitate oiled waterfowl.

Three methods were tried in the effort to clean up the spill:

•Mechanical Cleanup
•Chemical Dispersants

(Originally published on the US Environmental Protection Agency web site. Click here to read the rest of the piece. Needless to say, speed is always the key to resolving any emergency.)



  1. i think oil companys should die

  2. I think that the person who spills it should clean it up and that the Goverment should half to work to clean it up; not just have a smiling face and saying its alright! They need to Take Action!

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