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Response to the Exxon Valdez Spill

Shoreline cleanup included pressure washing rocky intertidal areas.
Shoreline cleanup after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska included pressure washing rocky intertidal areas. (Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council)

Within hours after the tanker Exxon Valdez began spilling crude oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska, a team of NOAA scientists from OR&R arrived on-scene.

During the days and weeks after the spill, U.S. Coast Guard and Exxon responders and others trying to control the effects of the huge oil slick used NOAA's predictions of the spilled oil’s trajectory in Prince William Sound. They also employed NOAA scientists' observations of the oil, made during overflights and sampling trips to affected shorelines.

In addition, responders used OR&R's Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps of the region, which show the locations of especially oil-sensitive animal and plant populations, to decide which areas were most important to protect and eventually to clean up.

NOAA team members also provided weather forecasts and briefed responders about the potential costs and benefits of alternative response strategies.

Long-Term Monitoring

Important questions emerged during the response to the Exxon Valdez spill:

Beginning in 1989 and ending in 2000, a team of NOAA OR&R biologists conducted a long-term study to monitor the area affected by the spill. Their goal was to evaluate the effects both of the oiling and of subsequent cleanup treatments on intertidal and shallow subtidal habitats in Prince William Sound. This allowed researchers to observe how quickly, and in what ways, shoreline habitats around the sound were recovering.

More Information about the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: While the Exxon Valdez spill was an unfortunate incident, it provided a necessary impetus to reexamine the state of oil spill prevention, response, and cleanup.


Go back to the Exxon Valdez oil spill overview page.

Last updated Wednesday, October 3, 2012 10:50am PDT