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HISTORY OF THE EXXON VALDEZ OIL SPILL

FROM THEN TO NOW...

Related Resources

MP3 icon Audio file: Excerpt of transcript of radio transmission recorded by the Vessel Traffic Center on March 23 and 24, 1989 relating to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez.

MP3 icon Movie excerpt: President of Exxon speaks to citizens of Prince William Sound immediately after the oil spill.

PDF icon Geographic Distribution of Exxon Claimants

For more information, visit:

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

Anchorage Daily News - Hard Aground: Disaster in Prince William Sound

On March 23, 1989 the Exxon Valdez an oil supertanker operated by Exxon and under the command of Captain Joseph J. Hazelwood left the port of Valdez headed for Long beach, CA with 53,094,510 gallons of oil on board. Shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, the supertanker collided with Bligh Reef, a well known navigation hazard, ruptured 8 of its 11 cargo tanks and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound. The result was catastrophic. Although the spill was radioed in shortly after the collision Exxon’s response was slow. In fact, there was no recovery effort for three days while Exxon searched for clean up equipment. During that time millions of gallons of oil began to spread down the coast. Days later as the clean up effort began the oil slick was no longer containable. It eventually extended 470 miles to the southwest, contaminated hundreds of miles of coastline and utterly destroyed the ecosystem.

Map of 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

PDF icon Download high resolution map

Photo Credit: Composite done by the Exxon Valdez Trustee Council from an original map by the Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

Description: Blue areas illustrate oil slick spread of 11,000 sq. miles.

These are the well known facts of the spill but there is much more to the story. Here is the Whole Truth. The history of the spill really began back in 1973 when Congress authorized the Trans-Alaska pipeline. This allowed oil companies including Exxon to access the crude oil from Alaska’s North Slope and transport it to the lower 48 states. While this meant great wealth for the oil companies it also jeopardized the waters of the Prince William Sound and the fisheries which drove the economy in the region.

Map of Victims of Exxon Valdez across the U.S.

PDF icon Download high resolution map

Geographic Distribution of Exxon Claimants

Map of Victims of Exxon Valdez across the U.S.

PDF icon Download high resolution map

Exxon, along with the rest of the oil industry knew that navigating a large supertanker through the icy and treacherous waters of Prince William Sound was extremely complicated. It also knew that Alaska was not equipped to contain a large oil spill. In fact the contingency plan in place at the time acknowledged that a spill over 8.4 million gallons could not be contained and would result in long term consequences. Armed with this knowledge the oil companies promised to use great care to avoid a spill.

Exxon broke that promise. Despite the risk of a spill, Exxon knowingly allowed Captain Hazelwood, a relapsed alcoholic, to command its supertanker through these treacherous waters. For nearly three years before the spill Exxon officials ignored repeated reports of Hazelwood’s relapse and failed to enforce its substance abuse policies. In fact, Hazelwood was allowed to continue operating the supertanker even though his driver’s license had been revoked for operating a motor vehicle under the influence.

It was no surprise that on the evening of March 23, 1989 Hazelwood visited two local bars and consumed between 5 and 9 double shots (15 to 27 ounces of 80 proof alcohol) before boarding the ship. Even though he was the only officer on board licensed to navigate through Prince William Sound, in his drunken state, he turned the helm over to a fatigued third mate who was not qualified to steer the ship. Shortly thereafter, as the Exxon Valdez picked up speed it left the shipping lanes and collided with Bligh Reef. Today the Exxon Valdez oil spill is still considered the worst oil spill in our nation’s history.

The first call

Hazelwood radios in to inform the Valdez Traffic Center he has hit Bligh Reef with the ExxonValdez oil tanker.

Click to hear this audio clip

Excerpt of transcript of radio transmission recorded by the Vessel Traffic Center, Valdez, Alaska on March 23 and 24, 1989 relating to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez.

Written transcript:

HAZELWOOD: Yeah,  Valdez Traffic. EXXON  VALDEZ. Over.

VTC: EXXON  VALDEZ.  Valdez traffic.

HAZELWOOD: Yeah. Ah, it’s  VALDEZ back. Ah, we’ve— ah, should be on your radar there— we’ve fetched up, ah, hard aground north of, ah, Good Island off Bligh Reef. And, ah, evidently, ah, leaking some oil, and, ah, we’re gonna be here for a while. And, ah, if you want, ah, so you’re notified. Over.

Exxon promised to make Prince William Sound whole again.

Alaska President of Exxon, Dan Cornett, spoke to the citizens of Prince William Sound and promised to make them whole. This is an excerpt of this speech, filmed during a community meeting in Prince William Sound following the oil spill."

Click here to watch this MPG movie clip!

Written transcript:

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER 1:  Is Exxon shipping company prepared to reimburse commercial fisherman for the lost income, fisheries -

DAN CORNETT: You won’t have a problem. I don’t care if you believe that, that’s the truth. You have had some good luck and you don’t realize it. You have Exxon and we do business straight.

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Don’t stand up there and lie to us.

DAN CORNETT: We will consider whatever it takes to keep you whole. Now, that’s-- you have my word on that. Dan Cornett. I told you that.

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