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Exxon Valdez Accident

On a calm, clear spring night in 1989, in Alaska's Prince William Sound, the bridge crew of the supertanker Exxon Valdez felt a strong thump, followed by a prolonged shuddering and loss of steerage way. Their ship had gone aground  not violently, not in a way that immediately endangered the ship itself, but enough to rip open the underside of the tanker's single hull, spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil into the sea.

Within hours, emergency response measures were underway to recover the spilled oil and (above all) to prevent it from spreading out to befoul adjacent shorelines. These measures, however, were too little and too late. By the next day, the Exxon Valdez would be in the world's headlines, the lead story in network newscasts.

By the next week, the circumstances of the accident would be the subject of angry headlines and official inquiries. The oil released would still be spreading, ultimately over tens of thousands of square miles of prime fishing grounds and along hundreds of miles of beautiful and environmentally delicate shoreline. A year later, the cleanup effort would still be underway. It was not clear, however, the real cleanup  less by human action than by natural processes  would take. Some biologists, the optimists, suggested that the oil would be effectively gone in another couple of years. Others doubted that Prince William Sound would really be clean again in this century (Egan, 1990).

Along with lingering oil around and in Prince William Sound, the Exxon Valdez accident left lingering questions. Some were technical. How could Coast Guard radar coverage be improved in environmentally or safetysensitive areas? (The Exxon Valdez went off radar before it went off course and onto the rocks.) How should emergency oil spill recovery operations be planned, organized, and carried out? Should oil tankers have double bottoms, instead of singleshell hulls? (...

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