The Valdez oil spill

Following one of the lowest points in ExxonMobil’s long history, we redoubled our efforts to protect the environment, our employees and the communities we operate in around the world.

In this article

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 cleanup complete.

Safety in our Operations

Operations Integrity Management System

The energy industry’s joint safety venture, Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC)

The 1989 Valdez accident was one of the lowest points in ExxonMobil's long 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. We consider this strong performance encouraging and it serves as a solid platform for continuous improvement efforts.

We believe our subsequent record of safety stems primarily from disciplined and systematic improvements that we have made.

Today the ecosystem in Prince William Sound is healthy, robust and thriving. While there were severe short-term impacts on many species due to the spilled oil, 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 significantly larger than the one that took place in 1989.

ExxonMobil has contracted independent scientists 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. Among the measures taken to improve oil-spill prevention:

  • All vessels in ExxonMobil services are fully double-hull construction, mitigating the effects of nearly all low energy incidents
  • All vessels in our service have to first undergo a thorough and rigorous vetting process, using industry-leading quality assessment techniques
  • We require industry best-practice application of vessel-management techniques, such as bridge team resource management

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 organization worldwide
  • There are over 1,000 ExxonMobil employees involved in oil spill response teams worldwide
  • We hold frequent, extensive oil spill drills and hands-on-training 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.

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. 

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.

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