April 2, 2009–“The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster”–Stan Jones

A summary of our April 2, 2009 speaker, Stan Jones by Barbara Brown Twenty years ago, on March 24, 1989, 11 million gallons of crude oil were dumped in Prince William Sound when the Exxon Valdez tanker went aground. At the time, Stan Jones was a reporter with the Anchorage Daily News, covering the spill. Now, Jones works his “day job” as the Director of External Affairs for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council (RCAC), the nonprofit body designed to serve as watchdog for the safety of crude oil transportation in the Sound. For the 20th Anniversary of the spill, Jones teamed with oral historian Sharon Bushell to write The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster. He delivered a PowerPoint presentation and remarks at the April 2 luncheon. Jones began by discussing prevention strategies put in place post-Spill. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 requires the phase-out of single-hulled tankers by 2015. If the Exxon Valdez had had a double-hull, the spill would have been reduced by 60 percent, which illustrates that this is not a fool-proof method: 4 million gallons would still have polluted the Sound. Combine double hulls with the two-tug escort system now in place (the Exxon Valdez was unescorted by the time it reached Bligh Reef) and prevention is much improved. However, the Oil Pollution Act allows the phase-out of escorts as double-hulled tankers are brought into operation. The RCAC is fighting this phase-out. The Exxon Valdez left the tanker lanes in 1989 to avoid icebergs. A later risk assessment identified icebergs in tanker lanes as “among the most significant risks to crude oil tankers,” so RCAC funded research and computer software development for ice-detection radar (to distinguish ice from water). Improvements have been made to response, training, and contingency planning for any future spills. In 1989, fishermen were using five-gallon buckets to pick up oil; now, oil-skimming systems can pick up 12 million gallons in 72 hours. In 1989, there were five miles of containment boom; now there are 71 miles. But asked whether there have been advances in clean-up technology, Jones replied, “Not really.” That’s why the emphasis has to be on prevention. Nowadays beaches may be left oiled because clean-up can do greater damage. The fallout from the Spill remains with us today. Whether it’s oil on the beaches, economic impacts on fishermen, or lasting effects on wildlife, the disaster lingers. Witness this photo, taken on Smith Island Beach June 26, 2008, and tell us the Sound has “healed.”

Anchorage Daily News Spill HeadlineIn identifying the personal stories Jones and Bushell planned to include in their book, they decided to interview only people “with oil on their boots,” the people up close to the disaster. Several highlights from Stan Jones’ PowerPoint (including quotes from the book) follow:

Gary Bader

Gary Bader

          “The window of opportunity was in the first forty-eight hours, and for the first forty-eight hours we at Alyeska were trying to figure out what the hell to do.” — Gary Bader, Alyeska

Adm. Clyde Robbins

Adm. Clyde Robbins

 

“We had to do something, even if it was just looking busy.” — Adm. Clyde Robbins, USCG

Tom Copeland

Tom Copeland

 

“There was a seal that had been screaming for hours, trying to get on her boat, trying to get out of the oil. The sound of a seal’s scream is exactly like that of a baby, and it kept hitting the side of the hull, trying to get on board.” — Tom Copeland, Cordova fisherman

Captain Joe Hazelwood

Captain Joe Hazelwood

 

“I would like to offer an apology, a very heartfelt apology, to the people of Alaska.” — Joe Hazelwood, captain of the Exxon Valdez

Stan Jones

Stan Jones

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