Exxon Valdez - 25 years on

Mar 31 2014


Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the ‘Exxon Valdez’ grounding.

On 24th March, 1989, the single-hull VLCC was departing Valdez, Alaska will a full cargo of North Slope crude oil (about 1.26 mill barrels) destined for Long Beach when it grounded on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. 

The resulting oil spill (around 258,000 barrels), while not the largest in US history, was clearly the most important, writes retired US lawyer Denis Bryant in his daily blog.

It engendered much litigation. For example, public concern over the spill was directly responsible for the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90), which mandated double hulls for new tankers, response plans and a number of other measures. 

OPA 90 also significantly changed the liability and compensation scheme for oil spills in US waters.  As a result, the amount of oil entering US waters from ships drastically decreased following its implementation. 

Bryant said that he was directly involved in development and promulgation of regulations implementing OPA 90 for the US Coast Guard, supervising a large staff of dedicated individuals. 

A lot has changed in the succeeding 25 years, most significantly the commitment of the maritime industry to minimise the risk of oil pollution from ships.  ‘One can only hope that oil discharges from point sources and non-point sources ashore demonstrate similar reductions’, Bryant wrote.



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