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NATURE
Exxon Valdez

10 years after Valdez spill, Alaskans prepared for the worst

Exxon Valdez
Ten years ago, the Exxon Valdez dumped at least 11 million gallons of oil into one of the world's richest fish and wildlife environments  

March 23, 1999
Web posted at: 11:41 p.m. EST (0441 GMT)


In this story:

Safety measures in place

Slow response in '89

Environmentalists not impressed


VALDEZ, Alaska (CNN) -- Ten years after the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, every tanker departs the terminal at Valdez with a tugboat tethered to its stern and another alongside.

As Alaska marks the 10th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill Wednesday, a $100 million response system stands ready to prevent future disasters.

"We have prevention equipment in place to minimize that risk to the lowest level possible, " said Bob Malone of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.

Meanwhile, Exxon has repaired and renamed the Exxon Valdez and wants to return it to the sound, despite a law now banning the ship from U.S. waters.

Safety measures in place

Valdez Legacy

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Alyeska operates the Valdez terminal and maintains a fleet of sophisticated escort tugs that accompany tankers through Prince William Sound.

The Coast Guard monitors tanker lanes eight miles bigger than before, and emergency equipment is ready at points along the routes. Tanker crews now undergo alcohol tests before shipping out to sea.

"It's obvious. Anybody who views it can see that things are a lot better in terms of response and prevention than they were in '89," said John Devens, a former mayor of Valdez.

Slow response in '89

When the Exxon supertanker struck a reef in 1989, government and industry response was woefully slow.

The emergency vessel assigned to rescue stranded tankers was in dry dock, and other pieces of essential rescue equipment were buried under snow. There was also a short supply of spill-containment booms.

"When I saw the black wall of death coming out from beneath the ship, I was very angry at myself for not doing more," said Dan Lawn, the first Alaska official to reach the punctured tanker.

After the 11 million-gallon spill, Exxon hired just about every fishing boat and crew on Prince William Sound to help clean up the area. The company spent about $2 billion on the project and another $300 million in compensation for losses. It is appealing a court order to pay $5 billion to those damaged by the spill.

Environmentalists not impressed

Some environmental critics are less than impressed with the new system.

"The Exxon disaster continues. Profits continue to win out over safety, spill prevention, and care for communities and the environment," said a report by a group called Oilwatch Alaska.

Critics say oil companies have been slow in converting their fleets to double-hull tankers by 2015, as required under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

Only three of the two dozen tankers that call Valdez home are double-hulled, said Leslie Pearson of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

And much to the dismay of some residents, Exxon wants to add another single-hulled tanker to Alaska's waters: the repaired Exxon Valdez, now named the SeaRiver Mediterranean.

The former Valdez, built in 1986, is among the newest of the single-hull tankers and will be among the last replaced under the Oil Pollution Act, said Art Stephen of SeaRiver Maritime, Exxon's shipping subsidiary.

Stephen said the massive tanker is too big for East Coast ports and is losing money in the Mediterranean.

But the Oil Pollution Act bans the U.S.-built ship from Alaskan waters. Exxon is challenging that ban.

Correspondent Don Knapp and Reuters contributed to this report.

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