Prince William Sound (60°36'54" N, 147°10'05" W), a large, irregular, islanded inlet of the Gulf of Alaska, South Alaska, East of the Kenai peninsula. Its intricate coastline measures some 5,000 km in length and has many bays and good harbors. The large Columbia Glacier flows into Columbia Bay, in the North central portion. Shipping is focused at the port of Valdez, which is the southern terminus of the trans-Alaskan pipeline linked to Prudhoe Bay. Prince William Sound was the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
On March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez, en route from Valdez, Alaska to Los Angeles, California, ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The vessel was traveling outside normal shipping lanes in an attempt to avoid ice. Within six hours of the grounding, the Exxon Valdez spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons of its 53 million gallon cargo of Prudhoe Bay crude oil. Eight of the eleven tanks on board were damaged. The oil would eventually impact over 1,100 miles of non-continuous coastline in Alaska, making the Exxon Valdez the largest oil spill to date in U.S. waters.
ExxonMobil acknowledged that the Exxon Valdez oil spill was a tragic accident that the company deeply regrets. Exxon notes that company took immediate responsibility for the spill, cleaned it up, and voluntarily compensated those who claimed direct damages. ExxonMobil paid $300 million immediately and voluntarily to more than 11,000 Alaskans and businesses affected by the Valdez spill. In addition, the company paid $2.2 billion on the cleanup of Prince William Sound, staying with the cleanup from 1989 to 1992, when the State of Alaska and the U.S. Coast Guard declared the cleanup complete. And, as noted above, ExxonMobil also has paid $1 billion in settlements with the state and federal governments. That money is being used for environmental studies and conservation programs for Prince William Sound.
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council published a study in 2004 to assess the state of the resources injured by the spill. Fifteen years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, it is clear that some fish and wildlife species injured by the spill have not fully recovered. It is less clear, however, what role oil plays in the inability of some populations to bounce back. An ecosystem is dynamic — ever changing — and continues its natural cycles and fluctuations at the same time that it struggles with the impacts of spilled oil. As time passes, separating natural change from oil-spill impacts becomes more and more difficult.