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The Valdez oil spill

Shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, in a tragic accident deeply regretted by the company, the Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Despite the efforts undertaken to stabilize the vessel and prevent further spillage of oil, more than 250,000 barrels of oil were lost in just a short period of time.

Exxon and the U.S. Coast Guard began a massive cleanup effort that eventually involved more than 11,000 Alaskan residents and thousands of Exxon and contractor personnel. In 1992 the U.S. Coast Guard declared the clean up complete.

The 1989 Valdez accident was one of the lowest points in ExxonMobil's 125-year history. However, we took immediate responsibility for the spill and have spent over $4.3 billion as a result of the accident, including compensatory payments, cleanup payments, settlements and fines. The company voluntarily compensated more than 11,000 Alaskans and businesses within a year of the spill.

In the aftermath of the accident, we also undertook significant operational reforms and implemented an exceptionally thorough operational management system to prevent future incidents.

This system has been deployed globally and in the years since the accident, we have had nothing similar occur. We believe our subsequent record of safety stems primarily from disciplined and systematic improvements that we have made. We are particularly proud of the spill prevention performance of our global marine transportation affiliates since the Valdez spill. In fact in 2008, there were no spills from ExxonMobil marine affiliate owned/operated tank ships or from those on long-term lease. We consider this strong performance encouraging and it serves as a solid platform for continuous improvement efforts.

The ecosystem in Prince William Sound today is healthy, robust and thriving. While there were severe short term impacts on many species due to the spilled oil, and they suffered damages, based on the studies of many scientists who have worked extensively in Prince William Sound, there has been no long term damage caused by the spilled oil. This level of recovery conforms to the well established record of recovery documented by the scientific community following many other oil spills around the world, many of them much larger than the one that took place in 1989.

ExxonMobil has contracted independent scientists with impeccable credentials who are among the world's leading experts in their fields. They have studied in-depth all pertinent aspects related to the effect of the Valdez oil spill on the Sound's water, shoreline and wildlife. To date these scientists have published approximately 400 peer-reviewed papers relating to all aspects of the Prince William Sound environment.

Changes ExxonMobil has made to prevent another accident like Valdez
In the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez accident, ExxonMobil redoubled its long-time commitment to safeguard the environment, employees and operating communities worldwide. To improve oil-spill prevention, ExxonMobil has, for example:

  • Modified tanker routes
  • Instituted drug and alcohol testing programs for safety sensitive positions
  • Restricted safety-sensitive positions to employees with no history of substance abuse
  • Implemented more extensive periodic assessment of ExxonMobil vessels and facilities
  • Strengthened training programs for vessel captains and pilots and
  • Applied new technology to improve vessel navigation and ensure the integrity of oil containment systems In the event a spill occurs, we also have improved our response capability. For example:
  • ExxonMobil is a founding member of every major oil spill response center worldwide
  • There are over 1,000 ExxonMobil employees involved in oil spill response teams worldwide
  • We hold frequent, extensive oil spill drills at various ExxonMobil locations around the world and
  • We have developed and applied new spill-detecting technology.

ExxonMobil Environmental Performance
ExxonMobil is committed to maintaining its leadership presence as a longstanding, technically proficient, industry-leader in safety and environmental stewardship.  Our comprehensive and disciplined approach helps us maintain an unwavering focus on incident prevention, preparedness and emergency response, should the need arise.

We are particularly proud of the spill prevention performance of our global marine transportation affiliates. 

Given the projected growth and important role that marine transportation plays in global commerce, ExxonMobil’s marine affiliates continue to voluntarily find and support innovative ways that often exceed regulatory standards to enhance the safety, security, and reliability of marine transportation.

ExxonMobil marine affiliates are active participants in the development of key voluntary industry quality initiatives including the implementation of the Tanker Management and Self Assessment program, a best practice guide for ship operators that complements existing quality standards, and expanding the Ship Inspection Report Exchange (SIRE) beyond tank ships to now include tank barges. The SIRE program promotes a uniformly high standard of common inspections that may be used within vessel screening and inspection processes for member companies.