Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Exxon Valdez Disaster

On this day in 1989 an oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, ran aground in Prince William Sound off the Alaskan coast, spilling 240,000 barrels (42,000 m³) of crude oil into the sea; given the remote location of the accident and the time of year, the cleanup effort was severely hampered. Rumours have continued to dog the ship's master Joseph Jeffrey Hazelwood that he was drunk at the time of the accident...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe story has an interesting Vancouver angle; my buddy Nyac (pictured) was rescued from the muck and brought to live at the Vancouver Aquarium as a pup - where she lived, alongside her buddy Milo, until her death in 2008. Although Nyac was 20 years old when she died - twice the age she could have expected to attain in the wild - when she died she was the first sea otter ever to have been diagnosed with leukemia - likely as a reult of her exposure to crude oil as a pup all those years ago.

In fact, for years I had a picture of them linking paws on my keychain, as well as pictures of the two of them cavorting on my hard drive which are now treasured mementos.

In another one of those spooky coincidences that occasionally happens, another oil tanker (this time the Amoco Cadiz) caused another, much worse, oil spill off the Brittany coast of France on the same day, only in 1978.
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Seumas Gagne said...

The Exxon Valdez incident, interestingly, was the the impetus for creating the part of NOAA that I work with. Although the methods used to 'clean up' the spill in Prince William Sound have since been shown to have caused more damage than the oil itself, it was still a shining moment of resolve on the part of the US government to at least attempt to mitigate the harm caused by industry.

michael sean morris said...

It would be interesting to contrast the way the 1978 spill was handled vs. the way the 1989 one was. I remember they used to let it wash ashore because it was easier to clean up, whereas now they put up containment booms in open water.

Captain Hazelwood was seriously villainised in the Valdez disaster (and I can't say I blame anyone for blaming him), but Exxon's business practices and the care and maintenance of their fleet shouldered their share of the blame.