One of the major lessons of the Exxon Valdez oil spill was that the spill prevention and response capability in Prince William Sound was fundamentally inadequate.
In March 1989, nearly 11 million gallons of oil spread slowly over open water during three days of flat calm seas. Despite the opportunity to skim the oil before it hit the shorelines, almost none was scooped up. A response barge maintained by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company was out of service and unavailable for use. Even if it had responded, there were not enough skimmers and boom available to do an effective job.
Dispersants were applied, but were determined to be ineffective because of prevailing conditions. Even if dispersants had been effective, however, there was not enough dispersant on hand to make a dent in the spreading oil slick.
Since that time, several significant improvements have been made in oil spill prevention and response planning.
The debate continues to rage over whether a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster can be contained and removed once it's on the water. But there is little doubt that today the ability of industry and government to respond is considerably strengthened from what it was at the time of the spill.
Complacency is still considered one of the greatest threats to oil spill prevention and response. To help combat that threat the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) conducts both scheduled and unannounced drills and participates in regular training exercises in Prince William Sound each year. Community training programs have been established and local fishing fleets have been trained to respond to spill emergencies.
In addition, the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, established by an act of Congress, serves as a citizen watchdog over the Alyeska Terminal, the shipping of oil through the sound, and the government agencies that regulate the industry. A similar citizen's organization watches over oil issues in Cook Inlet (Cook Inlet Regional Citizens' Advisory Council).