Alaska Environment and Land

One of the more traumatic events in Alaska's history was the Exxon Valdez tanker oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989. The Exxon spill was the largest oil spill in United States history - 10.8 million gallons. Though not high ranking in world oil spills (34th), it is thought to be the most damaging to the environment of all spills. Prince William Sound was a clean,, unique, rich natural ecosystem of about two million acres.. The spill was a huge disaster to that ecosystem. Coming, as it did, when Americans were more aware of the environment it reinforced the importance of environmental protection. Yet strangely, the economic impact of the spill was positive for Alaska in the long run. The Exxon corporation spent over $2 billion on the three-year clean up. Much of that money went to Alaska fishermen who used their boats,, to Alaska labor, and to Alaska contractors. Then the corporation was fined another $1 billion, along with $100,000 in criminal fines and $900,000 in civil fines and penalties. Most of that money went into the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Councilfund. The corporation is still fighting a $5 billion class action suit.

Nationally the Exxon spill became an environmental symbol and is so still today. Americans generally view the spill as an example of corporate irresponsibility toward pristine environmental resources. Analysts argue over the long-term impact of the spill on wildlife and maritime resources. But how severe or not that impact may be is irrelevant to the image the incident in national consciousness. Many have pointed out that the spill did not change behavior; people still use as much gasoline and petroleum products as they ever did. But environmental consciousness and sensitivity have become a more a permanent part of the American way of thinking, thanks in part to the Exxon Valdez.