Twenty-two years ago on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground at Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
The tanker spilled 11 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.
Here in Alaska people 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.
Until last year, the Exxon Valdez was the nation’s worst oil disaster. Then last April 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. There is no end date in sight for recovery from this oil disaster, either.
As if this were not bad enough, the US is on track for more devastating spills in even more fragile environments – the Arctic Ocean. The oil industry, led by Shell, is pushing hard to drill six exploratory wells in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
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. The closest Coast Guard Base is on Kodiak Island, 1,000 miles from the Chukchi Sea and even farther from the Beaufort Sea. 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 were to happen, Shell would not be able to clean it up.
There is a tremendous amount of damage and suffering that will continue in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the Exxon Valdez and BP Deepwater Horizon disasters. The only good that can come of the devastation and loss is a policy change that will protect US coasts, communities and oil industry workers from future blowouts and large oil spills. The first place that policy change must take hold is in the Arctic waters of Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
Join Greenpeace and other national and Alaska-based environmental groups for a call-in day to Department of Interior Secretary Salazar. Secretary Salazar has the power to protect the Arctic coast and all US coastlines from oil drilling.
Please take a few minutes and make a phone call to prevent future oil spill disasters.