Sunday, 30 January 2011

Santa Barbara and the Exxon-Valdez Oil Spills

Aug 2, 2010 Christopher Hanson
An otter- victim of the Exxon Valdez spill. - Blame Exxon Valdez on Captain Bligh; Midwest Storm
An otter- victim of the Exxon Valdez spill. - Blame Exxon Valdez on Captain Bligh; Midwest Storm
The Santa Barbara oil spill off the coast of southern California was the first major US oil spill. Until recently, Exxon-Valdez was the worst.

Union Oil 'Platform A' Blowout off the Coast of Santa Barbara, California

The first major American offshore oil spill occurred in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of southern California. A blowout occurred on January 28, 1969 near the bottom of the well-line of Union Oil's Platform Alpha. Approximations for the amount of oil spilled during the eight days between the blow out and its eventual cessation range from 80,000 to 100,000 barrels. As the oil charged waters reached the coast of California, they damaged coastlines in excess of 40 miles.
Platform A was finally plugged by a mass of mud and cement which were pumped into the well-line. Polycomplex A and Corexit were dropped from airplanes in an effort to disperse the oil. Skimmers scoured the ocean, scooping oil from her surface. The coasts of California were lined with 300 tons of straw in an attempt to sponge the oil from the sands as it made its way inland.
In the days and weeks after the spill, carcasses of dead dolphins, seals, and seabirds washed onto shore. The seabird populations took a substantial hit with an estimated
3,600 birds dying. Land birds fared better, but were forced to flea from nesting lands. The impact of these departures is still unknown. “Oil dispersed through the water column killed fish and intertidal invertebrates and devastated kelp forests. ”[1]

Exxon-Valdez Smashes Rock Prince William Sound

Exxon Mobil Corp.'s tanker, the Exxon-Valdez, struck a rock in Prince William Sound in 1989. The tanker spilled millions of gallons of oil into the sea and affected 1300 miles of Alaska coastlines. The estimate on just how much oil was spilled is a matter of debate. Officially, the number of oil spilled has remained 11 million gallons (257,000 barrels) for the last 21 years. However, activists pointing at the oil remaining in Prince William Sound and across the coast of Alaska claim that the spill must have been closer to 25-30 million gallons. The Exxon-Valdez was carrying 55,094,510 gallons of oil.
It is unclear whether the captain of the ship, Joe Hazelwood, was intoxicated when the ship ran aground. Though a blood test administered hours after the incident found blood in Captain Hazelwood's system, a jury found him “Not Guilty” of operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol. Regardless, Third Mate Gregory Cousins was in charge of the wheelhouse at the time of the spill. He was given specific instructions to navigate the ship back into the shipping lanes after taking a detour around a patch of icebergs. Cousins failed to reach the shipping lanes, running the ship aground at 12:04 am March 24, 1989.
When the Secretary Samuel K. Skinner of the Department of Transportation and Administrator William K. Reilly of the Environmental Protection Agency made their report on the spill in May of 1989, the death count in terms of sea birds and marine mammals was already high. At the time of the report 4,463 birds and 479 marine mammals had been collected. More current estimates put the death toll at, “2,000 sea otters, 302 harbor seals and about 250,000 seabirds.” (Scientific America) Oil can still be found in the waters and sands of the Alaska coast. This oil is still affecting wildlife.
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was the result of the Exxon-Valdez spill. The act establishes liability for damages and injuries in regard to natural resources. It also places limits on liabilities. The act took effect August 18, 1990, but is specifically retroactive to the Exxon-Valdez spill. The act establishes an institute to explore the environmental impact of the spill in Prince William Sound.
For upwards on twenty years after Exxon-Valdez smashed a rock in Prince Edward Sound, the spill remained the largest ever to occur in United States waters. The impact of the spill was amplified by the difficulty in reaching the affected area.
The Exxon-Valdez incident was the worst oil spill in American history at the time. It held this record for over twenty years before the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill Accessed July 25, 2010
Santa Barbara Oil Spill Accessed July 25, 2010
Copyright Christopher Hanson. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.