1989 — The Exxon Valdez runs aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska

One of the worst oil spills in history, especially in terms of the difficulty of cleaning it up, the collision of the Exxon Valdez with the Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound is the second worst oil spill in US waters (exceeded only by the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010). It took place, as most oil spills do, because an oil company decided that saving a few dollars by cutting safety margins was more important than the health of their employees or the environment.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill was incredibly remote, in a bay with virtually no land access, meaning that everyone had to come in by sea (through the oil slick that grew to cover 28,000 square kilometres) or by air. Taking place in the Alaskan spring, the clean up was further complicated by the melting of the ice floes and the occasional calving of icebergs. More than 25 years later, much of the oil still remains on the coasts and in the waters of the area – and Exxon is still to pay $92 million in compensation.

Referenced in:
Black Sea — John McCutcheon
Raven’s Child — John Denver
Dirty Pool — Spirit of the West
Barren Ground — Bruce Hornsby and the Range
The Wreck of the Exxon Valdez — Geoff Bartley