Many Americans have pretty much forgotten about the oil spill that occurred in Alaska 21 years ago. The spill began at 12:04 a.m. on March 24, 1989 when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef. Over the course of 56 days, the leaking oil spread, damaging 1,300 miles of shoreline. Ten thousand people helped clean it up. It took more than four summers and cost Exxon $2.1 billion. Twenty-one years later, things look pretty normal along the shoreline. But, things are far from normal. The fishing industry in the area is still hurting. Not even the stunning beauty of Alaska’s Prince William Sound can hide the deep and lasting scar just beneath the surface.
While herring populations are still devastated, other species such as salmon and bald eagles have recovered. On the shoreline, all you have to do is move a couple of rocks and you strike oil – Exxon Valdez oil – 21 years later. In fact, over 21,000 gallons of oil are left from the spill. It’s naturally decreasing at a rate of zero to 4% per year. At that rate, it will take decades – or perhaps even centuries – before it’s all gone. According to experts, the oil is still a threat some two decades later.
Along with the oil, bitterness remains. A jury awarded fishermen and other residents along the sound $5 billion, but Exxon appealed and only had to pay $507 million. The community has paid a heavy price and Exxon could care less. It’s said by local residents that their lives have been ruined forever.
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