Twenty-three years ago the Exxon Valdez ran aground at Bligh Reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
The tanker spilled eleven million gallons of oil into the water, fouled 1,500 miles of Alaska’s coast and killed hundreds of thousands of seabirds, otters, seals and whales, and devastated local communities.
Despite Exxon's declaration two years later that the spill was "cleaned up," tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil still contaminate beaches and impact wildlife.
People in Alaska are still living with the very real impacts of the spill more than two decades later. The oil from the broken tanker stopped spilling after a few days, but the impacts to wildlife and communities still continue. There is no end date in sight for recovery.
The Exxon Valdez was the worst oil disaster in US history, until it happened again. In April of 2010 the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank, tragically killing eleven people and spewing nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil flowed from the blowout for 86 days until the well was capped, and it was a full five months after the blowout that the federal government finally declared the well dead. The Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, wildlife and coastal communities will feel the impacts of this spill for decades if not centuries.
This year, two rusty old rigs working for oil giant Shell are heading to Alaska to drill the very first wells in the pristine waters of the Arctic. Clearly the company thinks that disasters like Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon can’t happen again. The facts say otherwise. Last year alone Shell admitted to causing 207 'significant' spills worldwide in places like Nigeria and Britain’s North Sea. Any one of those would be an even greater disaster in the Arctic.
The Beaufort and Chukchi are in a remote part of Alaska with very little to no infrastructure – roads, airstrips, harbors – for mounting oil spill response. Despite their efforts to upgrade their presence, the Coast Guard still won’t have the capacity to deal with a major spill. Even the head of the US Coast Guard has publicly admitted that his agency would have little chance of dealing with a spill in the frozen Arctic on their own. Even if oil spill response was possible in this remote and harsh Arctic environment, Shell and the oil industry lack the technology and know-how for removing oil from the Arctic marine environment. Simply put, if a blowout and large spill happens Shell can’t clean it up.
The plan Shell has submitted actually includes using things like shovels and brooms to cleanup a potential spill. It would be funny if there wasn’t so much at stake.
All Shell cares about is its corporate bottom line. Polar bears and unspoiled natural beauty are just obstacles to making ever greater profits. Greenpeace plans on opposing Shell every step of the way. But to create a public obstacle that Shell can’t overcome is going to take millions of us.
Over 300,000 people worldwide have already spoken out. Please take a minute on the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill to add your voice to the growing list of people who will not stay quiet as one of the last wildernesses on earth is destroyed and help save the Arctic.