exxon-valdez-disaster

The aim of this research paper is to present a summary of the data on Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. This paper will start by presenting a brief summary of the events that took place that day. This will be followed by the overview of the corrective action implemented and list of agencies involved in the clean-up. The final section will cover the regulations and standards violated by Exxon, which led to the oil spill.

In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker caused one of the largest oil spills in United States waters (Margulies, 2003). Exxon was not only one of the largest oil companies, but also caused the biggest accident at that time. As a result, the oil spill accident became a landmark incident for derivation of laws such as the Oil Pollution Act 1990. On that fateful night, Gregory Cousins was sailing the ship as the tanker was passing through Prince William Sound (Margulies, 2003). As Gregory Cousins was sailing, he noted the warning alarm indicating the ship was off track. On realizing this, Cousins quickly woke his captain Joseph Hazelwood to discuss the way forward. Shortly after he had woken his captain, while they were deep in discussion, the ship hit the reef with a low impact. Despite this low impact collision, the tanker spilled what has been approximated as 11 million gallons of crude oil. It is from this accidental oil spill that laws concerning oil spill came about (Leacock, 2005).

Another account of how the events unfolded on that particular night is incredibly contradictory to the story above. It has been documented that as the ship commenced the journey on that night, the weather conditions were appalling. Firstly, heavy fog was present and secondly, lots of ice was drifting in the water. To make matters worse, it was impossible to figure out whether the ice consisted of growlers which are enormous and tremendously hazardous to cut through or whether the ice was actually harmless as well as easy to pass through without any significant damage to the ship (Leacock, 2005). It is with this uncertainty that Hazelwood ordered Helmsman who was sailing the ship at the time to go round the ice as opposed to risking the chance that the ice could be a hazardous growler. However, this decision was only made after consulting with the U.S. Coast Guard and they assured him that it was okay to leave his initial lane since there were no ships using the other lanes nearby (Leacock, 2005).

In a while, Third Mate Cousins took over the ship and was ordered to go back to Exxon’s lane. However, it was late to do so as the ship had already been sailing towards Rocky Bligh Reef and, there was not enough time and space to maneuver the ship back into its own lane. On realizing this, Cousins called the captain and before he had finished explaining to the captain, the ship hit the rocky reef and gallons of oil gushed out resulting in the biggest oil spill in U.S. waters (Leacock, 2005).

Once the devastating accident had taken place it was time to clean it up. Several organizations were involved in the clean up, each with a different role. The Alyeska response team arrived at the site prepared to clean up, although it lacked sufficient equipment to clean up all 11 million gallons and could only manage 10,000 gallons. Exxon then decided to take over the job from the Alyeska response team since they were not sufficiently prepared to undertake the task at hand. The first method Exxon used was burning the oil up despite the high levels of air pollution associated with it. However, this only used up 15,000 gallons of oil since the rest had weathered making it incombustible (Leacock, 2005).

The second method used was the application of dispersants with authorization from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) from Alaska as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As a result of uncertainty as to whether this method would work, small samples were tested before releasing large amounts and proved to be unfruitful in dispersing oil from the surface despite numerous trials conducted (Leacock, 2005).

The corrective actions taken have been heavily documented as one of the largest bioremediation projects done. A wide range of methods was used to remedy the situation. Another effective method used was that of bioremediation. It involved the use of fertilizers which catalyze the biodegradation of oil. In this case, the Environmental Protection Agency provided their expertise, in particular in the use of bioremediation technologies that would be effective in the fast remediation of the oil spill. All in all, different remedies were used in various sections to relieve the effect of the spill. For instance, the fertilizers used in the biodegradation of the crude oil included the application of fertilizers high in nitrogen which fosters the growth of indigenous hydrocarbon-degrading microorganisms (Bragg, Prince, Harner, & Atlas, 1994). This method was only used in the intertidal zones.

When it came to the shore line, the contents used were different. The clean-up entailed the application of Inipol EAP 22, Customblen, Nitrogen, and phosphorus (Bragg et al., 1994). Further tests by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) revealed that biodegradation had actually worked as evidenced by the visual evidence collected. This evidence showed that areas which underwent cleaning were significantly cleaner than the areas which were treated with fertilizer. Those were the main methods used to clean up the spill. Assistance came from all over the world and of particular assistance was the role played by Russia. Russia offered their skimming ship which was considered the largest at the time with a capacity of scooping up 200,000 gallons of oil per hour. Accompanied by twelve other skimmers, a large amount of oil was collected, (Leacock, 2005).

Other agencies were also involved in the cleaning process such as the Alyeska Association. As soon as the news of the spill were dispersed, the Alyeska Association was the first organization to come out and assume responsibility for the cleanup of the oil spill, though they were not well equipped for the job. Eventually, they set up communication centers for the entire cleanup project (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2011).
Other agencies also followed in the Alyeska Association’s footsteps. For instance, the U.S. Coast Guard was heavily involved in the clean-up, in particular, the U.S. Coast Guard Coordinator was in charge of most of the cleanup activities. The Department of Environmental Conservation of Alaska also played an enormous role in the clean-up, particularly in the coordination of the whole process as well as in assessment of the tremendous damages caused by the incident. The Alaska Regional Response Team, whose main role is to respond to pollution incidents, was also executed to the site as soon as the news was unveiled. In addition to this, the remediation had to be weather tailored. Hence, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at NOAA took responsibility for keeping track of the weather forecast in the region. Both Hubbs Marine Institute and Berkeley International Bird Research Center of California took part in cleaning the animals affected and particularly the fowl and otters (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2011).

Though the spill was an accident, litigations were brought against the firm as well as its employees during the time of the spill. It has often been stated that the spill would have been prevented if the company had not let the captain continue to work and command the ship in his state of relapse back into alcohol abuse. It has been widely documented that Captain Hazelwood was allowed to work despite being in a bad working condition and contrary to complaints from other staff. In that situation, the management team reportedly took no action whatsoever towards Hazelwood and permitted to continue commanding the ship despite the fact Health and Safety implications were violated.

Another litigation brought forward was that Exxon regularly ignored federal fatigue laws and that ship departed at dangerous night time hours and in icy conditions for the purpose of saving company’s resources, in particular, for the purpose of saving money. It therefore appears that the safety was not of paramount importance to the company as compared to cutting costs. Another lawsuit was brought against the company for damage caused to the area’s natural resources (Rodgers, Crosetto III, Holley, Kade, Kaufman, Kostelec, Michael, Sandberg, Schorr, 2005). The lawsuit settlement required Exxon to pay $ 900 million dollars to restore the damaged resources. They were also required to pay an extra $ 100 million to restore further damage to the natural resources which were not foreseeable back in 1989 (Rodgers et al., 2005). Despite the fact total sum of the fine was drastically reduced to $ 125 million, it still remains the largest fine that has ever been paid for an environmental crime (Uhlmann, 2010).

Despite the above mentioned litigations, the disaster was far reaching and this should have been incorporated into the lawsuit. For instance, consider the devastating effect the spill had on the community such as the decline in fish population and the revenue lost in tourism. However, the U.S. Coast Guard should have taken as much responsibility and litigation brought against the company since they agreed to let the ship sail off its lane in the first place without much consideration of the possible consequences.

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