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Exxon Valdez - 25 Years Later

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  • Exxon Valdez - 25 Years Later

    I avoid politics on my Home Page like the plague. But not today. Not today of all days.

    I’m not sure if anyone gets it. I drive through Thompson Pass and check out dozens of mechanized skiers who are burning fuel as if there had never been an oil spill that devastated this region. Back then global warming wasn't even a phrase, and today this issue seems to be completely lost on many in the ski industry. I guess the ultimate paradox is how Valdez has become synonymous with oil guzzling skiing above Prince William Sound while also being home to the spill. Some communities change for the better in light of events like floods and tornadoes. But here, it's actually gotten worse.

    I remember the spill. I was a witness.

    I remember first, the Tanker Prince William Sound which, in 1981, went adrift in a full gale, fully loaded, and was blown around the Sound for eighteen hours before regaining power minutes before running aground on Glacier Island. I was there as a Vessel Traffic Controller in the U.S. Coast Guard watching it unfold on my radar. God, we were so lucky.

    I recall March 24, 1989 and the 5:30 a.m. call from my friend in the shipping industry telling me a tanker had struck and was stuck on Bligh Reef leaking oil.

    I recall seeing the first videos and faces of those who returned from Bligh Reef that day in their boats, leaving oil which had stuck to the hulls all across the small boat harbor.

    I recall expressing my outrage to Exxon ….in person, more than once.

    I recall having a merganser take a chunk out of my nose as I was carefully cleaning crude from its feathers, one of many birds I like to think I helped.

    I recall working the marine pathology lab assisting the pathologist in necropsies on hundreds of dead sea birds and mammals. There was a female lab tech who went "mental" after a week at the lab and was carrying around a dead, but fully developed baby otter on her shoulder in a maternal way. I hope she recovered from her experience. I have been a vegetarian since that month long adventure.

    I recall leaving a "well-paying fun job" to drive a boat on the spill that summer. The boat was 17' long and I lived, cooked and ate on it. I spent five months in and around Ground Zero on Eleanor and Knight Islands providing shoreside logistical support to clean-up crews covered in oil. Brutal work.

    I recall the local ski hill had to shut down because everyone went to work on the spill. I was coaching the little wrestlers program at the time. As we flew the team to Kodiak for the State Tournament in mid-April, we flew over miles and miles of still-heavily oiled beaches and sheens as far as one could see, even to Kodiak.

    I recall being a lab tech on a hatch-rate study of pink salmon and the spill. In five years working at the hatchery, that was the first time I had seen two-headed alevin, the life stage just after a salmon hatches. In the oil effected tray of eggs, half died before they hatched.

    I recall the social upheaval in Valdez that led to high numbers of families breaking up and, of course, the fractured community dealing with the influx of 10,000 unemployed and unemployable.

    And now, I can recall when all those glaciers that are way back there used to be right here.

    With that said, I do what I've always done. Keep it simple with as little impact on the environment as possible. But some in the industry just won't change despite our past (oil spills) and our future (global warming). We all need to take a serious look at how we winter recreate and how it impacts the future. Every effort counts in reducing our dependence on oil and starting with motorized recreation seems like a no-brainer. I guess the other irony is that those who love snow most are contributing to the decline of snow worldwide. I just don't get that as a skier. One thing’s for sure, we need more awareness in the industry, not another heli-ski commercial made in Alaska to sell whiskey in Atlanta. To me, as a witness to one of the largest environmental disasters of our time, it’s a pretty simple choice.

    Today in the Chugach….

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    "Oh beautiful for spacious skies……"
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    Last edited by Dostie; 30 March 2014, 08:43 PM.

  • #2
    Wow Matt. Thanks for that vivid description. I definitely appreciated reading it.

    One thing I had heard recently, in an NPR blurb related to the anniversary of the spill, is that otter populations had rebounded in spill-affected areas in the latest studies--although not nearly as much right at the ground zero of the spill. Here's the USGS page on it:


    • #3
      To hell and wonder you have such an attachment to your chosen home. Thanks for the reminder....


      • #4
        The most important thing is raising consciousness about the need to cut back. Humans have depended on economic growth for prosperity and that must change, especially growth based on population increase.

        I don't understand why people tend to think of the need to reduce per capita consumption rather than the need to reduce the per capitas (the population). We cannot let the population grow endlessly and it seems a fairly easy choice as to whether one should aim for a global population of 10 billion or 1 billion. Just as important as figuring out how we can coexist in a world of 10 billion, is figuring out how to get to a world of 1 billion. In the "first world" this is primarily an economic to maintain prosperity in a world of declining populations. (It seems that in a post-industrial world, without government promotion of larger families, people's choices will get us to the smaller population in terms of reproduction rate.) In the "third world" it really is as basic as getting people to use contraception and family planning…it boggles the mind that some of the great institutions of the world (e.g. religions) oppose this step.

        It's like on the one hand you have people trying to conserve energy, while on the other hand other people are promoting more consumption. The large body of do-nothings in the middle (i.e. your mechanized skiers) are not the problem so much as the forces in opposition.

        The biggest obstacle is people's perceptions. It's not so much how we encourage people to have smaller families as it is how we STOP encouraging people to have large families.

        Increasing women's education in the third world has proven to be the single biggest factor in reducing family size. That is of immediate importance.

        IMO, it is not productive to criticize people's choices as to how they use energy. Some are much better than others at reducing their carbon footprint. The important thing is changing people's consciousness, and eliminating the culture that values consumption as being synonymous with affluence.
        Last edited by Baaahb; 29 March 2014, 08:28 PM.


        • #5
          The last line from this:

          "If Exxon Valdez has taught us anything, Clusen says, it is to fairly weigh the ecological risk against the economic benefit of oil extraction.

          Yeah, that would be a key thing to remember. Doesn't matter if we are talking supertankers full of oil, rigs drilling in the ocean floor, the mess known as the tarsands, fracking, or pipelines running everywhere.

          To have lived through that in person must have been an absolute nightmare. Thank you, VT, for sharing that verbal imagery with us.


          • #6
            Thanks for sharing your experience with such passion. It's not often you hear the human perspective; there's been so much (understandable) focus on how the spill affected wildlife.

            We find it harder and harder to drive 2-3 hours to recreate. No choice in winter as skiers, but in warmer months we're more likely to stay local for cycling and kayaking rather than driving to hike.