be expected to increase with consumption unless steps are taken to reduce the release of petroleum from consumption-related activities.
On March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez, en route from Valdez, Alaska, to Los Angeles, California, ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The vessel was traveling outside normal shipping lanes in an attempt to avoid ice. Within six hours of the grounding, the Exxon Valdez spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons (37 kilotonnes) of its 53 million gallon cargo (156 kilotonnes) of North Slope Crude oil. The oil would eventually impact more than 1,100 miles (2400 km) of noncontinuous coastline in Alaska, making it the largest oil spill to date in U.S. waters. The biological consequences of the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) have been well studied, resulting in significant insights and raising important questions about lethal and sublethal impacts of oil exposure (Box 1-1). The scientific controversies arising from work carried out in and around Prince William Sound have important implications for understanding effects from the release of oil at a variety of scales. Thus, while resolving specific controversies centered around EVOS is clearly beyond the scope of the study, they are discussed in terms of their broader implications throughout this report, but especially in Chapters 2 and 5.
The response to the Exxon Valdez involved more personnel and equipment over a longer period of time than any other accidental spill in U.S. history. At the height of the response, more than 11,000 personnel, 1,400 vessels, and 85 aircraft were involved in the cleanup. Shoreline cleanup began in April of 1989 and continued until September of 1989 for the first year of the response. The effort continued in 1990 and 1991 with cleanup in the summer months and limited shoreline monitoring in the winter. Monitoring of fate and effects by state and federal agencies continues.
Beyond the ecological damage, the Exxon Valdez disaster caused fundamental changes in the way the U.S. public thought about oil, the oil industry, and the transport of petroleum products by tankers. Despite continued heavy use of fossil fuels in nearly every facet of our society, “big oil” was suddenly seen as a necessary evil, something to be feared and mistrusted. The reaction was swift and significant.
The extraction, transportation, and consumption of petroleum hydrocarbons increased significantly with the expansion of modern ground and air transportation systems and the need for industrial and public power generation. Early in the twentieth century, greater attention was paid simply to the demand for more oil than to the environmental consequences of the potential pollution problems associated with its extraction, transportation, and consumption. Because little was known about petroleum hydrocarbon inputs to the marine environment, a workshop was convened in 1973 to evaluate this aspect of marine pollution. It led to the publication in 1975 of a National Research Council (NRC) report entitled Petroleum in the Marine Environment. That report, using the best data available at the time, discussed petroleum hydrocarbon inputs, analytical methods, fates, and effects of oil discharged to the marine environment. The report gener