How the Exxon Valdez Disaster Changed America’s Oil Spill Emergency Management

March 1998 (VOL. 16, NO. 1)

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The March 1989 Exonn Valdez oil spill into Prince William Sound, Alaska, profoundly changed America’s oil spill emergency preparedness by compelling enactment of the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990 and inducing the oil industry to create the Marine Spill Response Organization. This study discerns both improvements and remaining flaws in the U.S. oil spill emergency preparedness since the Exonn Valdez disaster. Many organizations engaged in oil spill prevention and accident response have improved emergency planning, inspections, accident training and drills, clean-up equipment availability and deployment, and safety programs. Key federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, oil companies, and cooperative spill response groups have made many of these changes. Problems regarding spill liability, availability of rapid-response oil spill clean-up contractors, disputed environmental clean-up methods, slow conversion to double-hulling oil tankers, disputes over when officials should seek oil spill presidential disaster declarations, single vessel ownership dummy companies, and variable state oil shipping rules will continue to cause complications and vulnerabilities.