Some Background on the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

A spill occurred in March of 1989 when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Part of its cargo, 11 million gallons of crude oil, spilled into the water. Do you remember hearing anything about this spill

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About two tankers a day or over 700 tankers a year make this journey. Many are supertankers which are as long as three football fields.

The supertanker Exxon Valdez was carrying slightly more than 53 million gallons of Alaskan crude oil when it ran aground on an underwater reef. The 11 million gallons that spilled made it the largest oil tanker spill to occur in United States waters. Wind and tides spread the oil over a large part of Prince William Sound and part of the Alaskan coastline outside the Sound. Some of the spilled oil evaporated in the first few days after the spill, but much of it stayed in the water and ended up on shore. The currents floated the oil from Prince William Sound. The farthest point it reached is about 425 miles from where the tanker ran aground. Altogether about 1,000 miles of shoreline inside and outside the sound were affected in some way.

Because of the wind and currents, some shore was heavily oiled, some lightly oiled, and much was not affected at oil. The oiling was heavies in Prince William Sound. Most of the affected shore outside prince William Sound was only very lightly oiled.

During the period of the spill there were about one and a half million seabirds and sea ducks of various species in the spill area inside and outside Prince William Sound. The actual number of birds killed by the oil was larger because not all the bodies were recovered. Scientists estimate that the total number of birds killed by the spill was between 75,000 and 150,000.

About three-fourths of the dead birds were murres. Because and estimated 350,000 murres live in the spill area, this death toll, though high, does not threaten the species. One hundred of the areas approximately 5,000 bald eagles were also found dead from the oil The spill did not threaten any of the Alaskan bird species, including the eagles, with extinction.

Bird populations occasionally suffer large losses from disease or other natural causes. Based on this experience, scientists expect the populations of all these Alaskan birds to recover within 3 to 5 years after the spill.

The only mammals killed by the spill were sea otters and harbor seals. According to scientific studies about 580 otters and 100 seals in the Sound were killed by the spill. Scientists expect the population size of these two species will return to normal within a couple of years after the spill.

Many species of fish live in these waters. Because most of the oil floated on the surface of the water, the spill harmed few fish. Scientific studies indicate there will be no long term harm to any of the fish populations.

Preventing Future Oil Spills

In the little over ten years that the Alaska pipeline has operated, the Exxon Valdez spill has been the only spill in Prince William Sound that has harmed the environment.

Some precautions have already been taken to avoid another spill like this. Congress has also recently required all new tankers to have two hulls instead of one. The Exxon Valdez, like most other tankers, had only a single hull. Double hulls provide more protection against oil leaking after and accident.

However, it will take ten years before all the single hulled tankers can be replaced. Scientists warn that during this ten-year period another large spill can be expected to occur in Prince William Sound with the same effect on the beaches and the wildlife as the first spill.

In order to prevent damage to the area's natural environment from another spill, a special safety program had been proposed. Here's how the program would work.

Two large Coast Guard ships specially designed for Alaskan waters will escort each tanker from Valdez all the way through Prince William Sound until they get to the open sea. First, they will help prevent an accident in the Sound by making it very unlikely that a tanker will stray into dangerous waters. Second, if an accident does occur, the escort ships will carry the trained crew and special equipment necessary to keep even a very large spill from spreading beyond the tanker.

Escort ship crews would immediately lace a boom that stands four feet above the water and five feet below the water, called a Norwegian sea fence, around the entire area of the spill. Because oil floats on the water, in the first days of a spill, the sea fence will keep it from floating away. The oil trapped by the sea fence would be scooped up by skimmers and pumped into storage tanks on the escort ships. Within hours, an emergency rescue tanker would come to the scene to aid in the oil recovery and transport the oil back to Valdez.


This system has been used successfully in the North Sea by the Norwegians.

Without the program scientists expect that despite any other precautions thee will be another large oil spill that will cause the same amount of damage to this part of Alaska as the last one. With the program they are virtually certain there will be no large oil spill the will cause damage to this area.

Because two tankers usually sail from Valdez each day, the Coast Guard would have to maintain a fleet of escort ships, skimmers, and an emergency tanker, along with several hundred Coast Guard crew to run them.

Although the cost would be high, the escort ship program makes it virtually certain there would be no damage to Prince William sound's environment from another large oil spill during the ten years it will take all the old tankers to be replaced by double-hulled tankers.

It is important to note that this program would not prevent damage from a spill anywhere else in the United States because the escort ships could only be used in Prince William sound.

Paying for the Program

If the program were approved here is how it would be paid for.

All the oil companies that take oil out of Alaska would pay a special one-time tax which would reduce their profits. Households like yours would also pay a special one-time charge that would be added to their federal taxes in the first year and only the first year of the program.

This money would go into a Prince William Sound Protection Fund. The one-time tax which would provide the Fund with enough money to pay for the equipment and ships and all the yearly costs of running the program for the next ten years until the double-hulled tanker plan takes full effect. By law no additional tax payment could be required. Because everyone would bear part of the cost, we are using this survey to ask people how they would vote if they had the chance to vote on the program.

We have found some people would vote for the program and other would vote against it. Both have good reasons for why they would vote that way.

Those who vote for say it is worth money to them to prevent the damage from another large spill in Prince William sound. Those who vote against mention concerns like the following:

Some mention that it wouldn't protect any other part of the country except the area around Prince William Sound.

Some say that if they paid for this program they would have less money to use for other things that are more important to them.

And some say the money they would have to pay for the program is more than they can afford.

Of course whether people would vote for or against the escort ship program depends on how much it would cost their household.

At present, government officials estimate the program would cost your household a total of . You would pay this in a special one time charge in addition to your regular federal taxes. This money would only be used for the program to prevent damage from another large oil spill in Prince William sound.

If the program cost your household a total of would you vote for the program or against it.

For   Against

X is $10, $30, $60, or $120.

Glenn W. Harrison and James C. Lesley "Must Contingent Valuation Surveys Cost So Much?" Journal of Environmental Economics and Management Volume 31 pages 79-95 (1996)

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