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Exxon Valdez oil spill, Alaska, United States

On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history. A legal battle followed to determine compensatory damages and punitive damages (in dollars).


"Prince William Sound, which sits at the northernmost part of the Gulf

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Exxon Valdez oil spill, Alaska, United States
Country:United States of America
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, the 987-foot tank vessel Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. What followed was the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The oil slick has spread over 3,000 square miles and onto over 350 miles of beaches in Prince William Sound, one of the most pristine and magnificent natural areas in the country. EPA recommended (Executive summary, (1)) the following actions:

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Level of Investment for the conflictive project4,500,000,000 (based on compensatory and punitive damages)
Start of the conflict:23/03/1989
Company names or state enterprises:ExxonMobil Oil Corporation
Alyeska Pipeline Service Company from United States of America
Relevant government actors:EPA, Environmental Protection Agency
Alaska Department of EnvironmentalConservation
U.S. Coast Guard
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Monetary compensation.- March 13, 1991. "Washington, D.C. - Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and Alaska Governor Walter Hickel today announced that Exxon Corporation and Exxon Shipping Company have agreed to settle all federal and state civil claims resulting from the Exxon Valdez oil spill on March 24, 1989, by the payment of $900 million in damages. The settlement also has a reopener clause stating that Exxon may incur an additional $100 million for natural resource damages not currently foreseen." (1).
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The damage done could not be amended, there was a great loss of wildlife. The impacts were enormous. The monetary compensation to those directly affected was relatively large, and there was new legislation enacted. But the punitive damages were too small (after appeal). "Justice has not been served in the Exxon Valdez oil spill ... Since greater harm was done to the commons than to the livelihoods of users of the commons" (3). "Although
severe damage to a local ecology may not have a universal effect in the way in which damage to the atmosphere might, it would have enormous
implications for a sub-population that relies heavily on that ecology for its use-value, or for larger populations that value it for its passive use. Thus,
future generations of commercial fishers, subsistence users, cannery workers, and the like, will be harmed by damage to the use-value of the Sound.
Similarly, there will be harm to a larger population who value the Sound for its passive use. There is another consideration in concern with local
ecologies. If sustainable treatment of local ecologies is dismissed because it does not have sufficient universal impact, still cumulatively such attitudes could create negative global effects for future generations as critical local ecologies are decimated" (3).
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Piper, Ernest. 1993. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Final Report, State of Alaska Response. Anchorage: Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

(2) The Complete Story Of The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, by Shamseer Mambra. March 23, 2022. Maritime History
[click to view]

(3) Lessons from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: A Case Study in Retributive and Corrective Justice for Harm to the Environment. By James Liszka. Ethics and the Environment Vol. 15, No. 2 (Fall 2010). An excellent discussion.
[click to view]

(1) EPA archive on the Exxon Valdez case.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

2014. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill | Flashback | NBC News.
[click to view]

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: In the Wake of Disaster | Retro Report | The New York Times
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:JMA and NL
Last update02/08/2022
Conflict ID:6105
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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