10 years after Valdez spill, Alaskans prepared for the worst
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)
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
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
"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
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
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.