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The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: 25 Years Ago Today

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On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez had just entered Alaska's Prince William Sound, after departing the Valdez Marine Terminal full of crude oil. At 12:04 am, the ship struck a reef, tearing open the hull and releasing 11 million gallons of oil into the environment. Initial responses by Exxon and the Alyeska Pipeline Company were insufficient to contain much of the spill, and a storm blew in soon after, spreading the oil widely. Eventually, more than 1,000 miles of coastline were fouled, and hundreds of thousands of animals perished. Exxon ended up paying billions in cleanup costs and fines, and remains tied up in court cases to this day. The captain, Joseph Hazelwood, was acquitted of being intoxicated while at the helm, but convicted on a misdemeanor charge of negligent discharge of oil, fined $50,000, and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service. Though the oil has mostly disappeared from view, many Alaskan beaches remain polluted to this day, crude oil buried just inches below the surface. [39 photos]

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The damaged oil tanker Exxon Valdez, towed out of Alaska's Prince William Sound by a tugboat and a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, on June 23, 1989. On March 24, 1989, the tanker ran hard aground on Bligh Reef, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sound -- at the time, the largest oil spill disaster in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
The damaged oil tanker Exxon Valdez, towed out of Alaska's Prince William Sound by a tugboat and a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, on June 23, 1989. On March 24, 1989, the tanker ran hard aground on Bligh Reef, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sound -- at the time, the largest oil spill disaster in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
The Exxon Baton Rouge (smaller ship on left) attempts to offload crude oil from the Exxon Valdez after the Valdez ran aground in Prince William sound near Valdez, Alaska, on March 26, 1989. (AP Photo) #
Thick crude oil washed up on the cobble beach of Evans Island sticks to the boots and pants of a local fisherman in Prince William Sound, on April 11, 1989. (AP Photo/John Gaps III) #
Left: Cordova fisherman Tim Tirrell puts a dead sea otter into his boat after finding the oily animal on the beach of Johnson Bay in Prince William Sound, on April 14, 1989. Right: A pod of sea lions swim through a slick of crude oil off the shore of Ingot Island, Alaska, on April 14, 1989, three weeks after the spill. (AP Photo/John Gaps III) #
High winds on Prince William Sound push crude oil up into an inlet on Squire Island on April 10, 1989. (AP Photo/John Gaps III) #
A cleanup worker walks through the oily surf at Naked Island on Prince Williams Sound on April 2, 1989, as early beach cleanup efforts take place in the background, a week after the spill. (Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images) #
Oily rocks glisten in the sun on Green lsland in Prince William Sound. This section of beach, earlier signed off as being environmentally stable by both Exxon and the Coast Guard, was re-oiled on July 4, 1989. (Alaska Resources Library and Information Services) #
Crews clean up an oil soaked beach on Naked Island on April 2, 1989. (Reuters/Mike Blake) #
An oil skimming operation works in a heavy oil slick near Latouche Island on April 1, 1989. (Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images) #
A Red Necked Grebe, covered in oil, found on Knights Island, about 35 miles from the spill, on March 30, 1989. The bird was taken to the bird cleanup center in Valdez by photographers. (AP Photo) #
Many seabirds, such as cormorants and murres, were killed by the spilled oil. (Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council) #
One baby and five adult oil-soaked sea otters lie dead on Green Island beach on April 3, 1989. (Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images) #
Spilled oil from the grounded Exxon Valdez spreads into Prince William Sound. (Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council) #
A DC-6 plane sprays chemical dispersants on the oil spilled from the tanker Exxon Valdez on March 27, 1989. (AP Photo/Bob Stapleton) #
An oil slick swirls over Prince William Sound, Alaska, on April 2, 1989, about 50 miles from where the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground. (AP Photo/Rob Stapleton) #
A clean-up worker rakes through crude oil, contained by floating booms off the waters of Prince William Sound on April 16, 1989. The oil, contained here in Snug Harbor off Knight Island, was later sucked off the water by a U.S. Coast Guard skimmer. (AP Photo/John Gaps III) #
Sea lions swim in the southern bay of Naked Island as the crippled oil tanker Exxon Valdez sits at anchor in Prince William Sound on April 12, 1989. (AP Photo/John Gaps III) #
On his hands and knees, a member of the cleanup crew scrubs oil soaked rocks on Naked Island on April 2 1989. (Reuters/Mike Blake) #
An oil soaked sea bird rests in a towel in the animal rescue center on March 31, 1989. (Reuters/Mike Blake) #
A cleanup worker uses high pressure, high temperature water to wash crude oil off the rocky shore of Block Island on April 17, 1989. (AP Photo/John Gaps III) #
U.S. Navy LCM's (Landing Craft Mechanized) anchored off Smith Island, Alaska, on May 11, 1989 provide steam to enhance clean up following the oil spill. (AP Photo/Michael Poche) #
Beach workers coordinated with offshore workers to contain and remove oil from beaches. (Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council) #
Hot water from high-pressure hoses was originally used to clean beaches, but workers switched to cold water after discovering that hot water was killing shoreline organisms. (Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council) #
Aerial view of a maxi-barge and spill workers hosing a beach, oil sheen trapped in containment boom, on LaTouche lsland, on September 11, 1989. (Alaska Resources Library and Information Services) #
Crews use high-pressure hoses to blast the rocks on this beach front on Naked Island on April 21, 1989. (AP Photo/Rob Stapleton) #
An assembly of some of the animals killed by the oil, including seabirds and a sea otter. (Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council) #
An oil covered bird is examined on an island in Prince William Sound in April of 1989. (AP Photo/Jack Smith) #
Aerial photo of a berthing vessel, a "floating hotel" that housed oil spill workers, on Prince William Sound, in July of 1989. (Alaska Resources Library and Information Services) #
Support vessels for the spill cleanup anchored in Prince William Sound, in July of 1989. (Alaska Resources Library and Information Services) #
Thousands flocked to Valdez, Alaska, to earn money in the massive cleanup effort, creating a temporary boomtown, and attracting those who wished to supply, house, and feed the newcomers. Photo taken on June 6, 1989. (AP Photo/Jack Smith) #
Joseph J. Hazelwood, left, captain of Exxon Valdez and Gregory Cousins, at right rear, the ship's third mate, who was at the helm of the tanker when it ran aground, leave Coast Guard offices in Valdez, March 28, 1989 with an unidentified Exxon official. The men met with officials of the National Transportation Safety Board, who were investigating the grounding of the tanker and the subsequent oil spill. (AP Photo/Rob Stapleton) #
The Exxon Valdez aground on Bligh Reef on March 25, 1989. (AP Photo/Stapleton) #
A rescued sea otter is restrained and washed by workers at a local animal facility after five of the oil covered mammals were captured in the fouled waters of Prince William Sound on April 18, 1989. (AP Photo/John Gaps III) #
Cleanup continues as workers blast rocks and wash shorelines soaked in crude oil from the leaking tanker Exxon Valdez on March 28, 1989. (U.S. Coast Guard) #
Ray Bane, superintendent of the Katmai National Park, digs into a thick pool of oil on the park's shoreline on the Alaska Peninsula, on May 3, 1989. Oil from the Exxon Valdez had moved hundreds of miles from Prince William Sound. (AP Photo/John Quinley) #
Dennis Kelso, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, walks with members of the Oil Spill Task Force during a tour of the Dayville Incineration Site in Valdez, surrounded by piles of oily waste waiting to be burned, on July 4, 1989. (Alaska Resources Library and Information Services) #
The damaged Exxon Valdez, escorted by tugs from Prince William Sound. (U.S. Coast Guard) #
An oil covered sea otter waits in his cage outside an animal rescue center on April 1, 1989. (Reuters/Mike Blake) #
Decades later, on May 5, 2010, oil is shown seeping into a hole dug on a beach on Eleanor Island, Alaska. (Reuters/Lindsay Claiborn) #

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