A dark stain on Exxon's history...

What Happens in Alaska…

June 2 by Cristóbal Crespo

…stays in Alaska for a f**king long time.

Especially when it happens to be one of the worst oil spills of all time.

To find out the whole story, we have to time-travel back to March 23, 1989.

Exxon Valdez, an oil supertanker owned by the Exxon Corporation, was navigating the icy waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska. It was bound for Long Beach, California, though it wouldn’t be a spoiler if we told you it never made it to its destination.

The captain, who had allegedly been pounding down vodka, let an unqualified officer take over the ship as he allegedly went below decks to sleep off his bender. Which is kind of like handing the car keys over to your little cousin who’s only ever driven a vehicle on Playstation.

The officer, who had been left in charge of steering, was not only inexperienced but also very fatigued. The fellow tried to maneuver the ship on autopilot.

Then disaster struck when the vessel ran aground on a reef. It ruptured the ship’s hull, unleashing 40.8 million litres of crude oil into the sea.

And it didn’t even end there. Adding to their misfortune was a storm that blew in, spreading the oil and eventually polluting over 2,000 km of once-pristine coastline. This resulted in the deaths of birds, otters, seals, whales – it basically wiped out every trace of wildlife and turned Exxon into Greenpeace’s mortal enemy. I mean, not even microbes survived the spill.

“This is so sad. Sadder than anyone above 18 collecting Pokémon cards.”

As the area was only accessible by boat or helicopter, this made clean-up extremely difficult and complex. But Exxon’s slow response to the spill was also heavily criticised.

 

Decades later, Exxon Mobil – and not least, the environment – is still feeling the effects of the spill. Exxon is still paying off a bunch of well-deserved fines and has spent $3.8 billion to clean up the area. (Add that to the $4.5 billion in punitive damages and $2.3 billion in interest.)

In addition, the spill f**ked the region both environmentally and economically. The fishing and tourism industries were all but obliterated. And it’s been estimated that only 7% of the spilled oil has been cleaned up.

But the spill at least led to tighter regulations and greater scrutiny of oil operations, while improving spill response. Though some would argue that didn’t help to prevent Deepwater Horizon…but one demotivational story for the day is quite enough.

 

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