Valdez in the United States
Valdez in Environmental Law
An Exxon oil tanker that hit Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound on 24 March 1989, spilling more than eleven million gallons of oil. The tanker, a single hulled ship that was only three years old, was making a routine rim from the town of Valdez, Alaska, to Long Beach, California.
The captain of the ship was Joseph Hazelwood, a veteran who had taken the Valdez on many trips to and from Long Beach, California. The tanker had loaded oil in Valdez, where the Alaskan pipeline, operated by a consortium of six oil companies called Alyeska, terminates. The tanker was returning to Long Beach.
Glacial ice had moved into the area, and Hazelwood was allegedly drunk at the time the tanker hit the reef. He was not at the helm when the Valdez first ran aground, but he did appear and issue orders that aggravated the situation. According to records, Hazelwood had a history of alcohol abuse and had three drunkdriving convictions. At the time of the spill, Hazelwood did not have a valid driver’s license because of those convictions.
Alyeska was the organization that had filed a contingency plan with Alaska, and under the plan, it was responsible for handling the spill. However, Exxon quickly acknowledged accountability for the wreck and took over the cleanup effort. Alyeska disappeared quietly while Exxon tried to develop and implement a plan.
But no one had anticipated a release of the quantity of oil that poured into the water. The situation worsened as untrained, unprepared people tried to gather equipment and get approval to contain and remove the oil. As word of the disaster spread, the media, the community, the government, and Exxon held numerous meetings but could not get organized.
Exxon spent millions of dollars trying to remedy the situation, but environmental damage was extensive. Oil destroyed aquatic life, birds, and shorelines. By the time it was over, Exxon had paid $3.5 billion in cleanup and civil and criminal fines; it also paid $9.7 million to Alaskan businesses. Exxon was also sued by numerous people, including governmental representatives, environmentalists, and fishermen. The case brought by fishermen resulted in a judgment against Exxon in the amount of $5 billion in punitive damages and $287 million to compensate for the loss.
The spill illustrated the need for the kind of emergency planning that could translate into an effective oil spill response. In 1990, Congress enacted the Oil Pollution Act. It requires double hulled tankers, planning, training, drills, financial responsibility, and coordination.
Based on “Environment and the Law. A Dictionary”.