About three decades ago, early in the Spring, Exxon Valdez, a crude oil tanker owned and operated by Exxon Oil Company, left the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal in Valdez, Alaska carrying close to 55 million gallons of crude oil. The weather was clear, and the local sea traffic center had reported that the ship’s navigational route was clear of traffic. It was only one of the 8,500 sailings within a 12-year period that saw a fleet of big tankers safely delivered crude oil at a daily rate of 2 million barrels of oil, from the trans-Alaska pipeline to U.S. West Coast and Gulf markets, without any major incidents.
Everything was going well as planned. A party was even held by the vessel’s crew during that fateful day while awaiting the completion of loading crude oil. That party, where it is believed that alcoholic beverages were consumed by ship’s officers, would become the key focus of accident inquiries by authorities to determine the cause. By midnight, as the ship navigated through the cold waters of Alaska’s shore at full speed, a possible navigational error caused the ship to run into a reef, immediately rupturing her hull, leading to a major oil spill. Investigations would point out that the ship was off her planned course before she ran aground.
It was the worst environmental spill in the U.S. until the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.
More than 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the heart of Alaska’s then-a natural miracle, Prince William Sound. The incident was totally devastated the local ecosystem, damaging close to 1,300 miles of shoreline. It is reported that an estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, and at least a dozen of killer whales, among billions of salmon and herring, were killed. The spill not only hurt natural life, but also hurt the local community. In a community where the economy is established on produce that comes from sea, local fishermen and businesses went bankrupt.
Despite years of cleaning efforts and billions spent, 30 years later, the sound’s ecosystem remains permanently damaged. Oil still pollutes the beaches. The general opinion is that the Sound will likely never return to pre-spill conditions.