Lessons from Exxon Valdez: Turning Anger to Action

I’ve spent the last few days talking to some of my friends from Cordova, Alaska, a small fishing town in Prince William Sound, reachable only by plane or boat.

Many of my friends’ lives were dramatically impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill more than 20 years ago. They went from fishermen to conservationists who happened to fish.


They saw the devastation the Exxon Valdez oil spill caused to the environment, and ultimately to their community. And they realized that in a world where enormous companies have a profit motive and the means to spend a great deal of money lobbying our government, someone needs to pay attention, to be the squeaky wheel that ensures our coastlines are not oiled.
Mostly what I hear from these folks is sorrow and anger. They remember the oiled coastline of Prince William Sound, and the wildlife that died. And they remember the cost to the fishing town when the herring didn’t come back. Twenty years later, the herring still haven’t come back.

And you know, they also remember being told that nothing could go wrong with the oil tankers, and that the Sound was safe. And they feel sorry and angry for the folks on the Gulf Coast who heard the same thing about the oil rigs.

From Anger to Action

After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, my friends and people around the country used their anger to change things to make oil shipping safer. They changed the rules to require double hulled tankers. Even more importantly, they changed the rules so that in Prince William Sound, a citizen oversight committee was created to watch over oil tankers, to do their own studies of tanker safety, to do their own inspections of oil facilities to make sure the rules were being followed.

We need to take that concept and make it happen all across this country for all oil and gas development. But first, we need to pass an energy bill that moves us into a prosperous future and out of a past where we convince ourselves over and over again that we have to accept the enormous price oil and gas development can exact on wildlife, people and our communities.

Tell your Senators we need to stop pursuing unsafe energy options and pass clean energy legislation now.

“The Day the Water Died”

In fall of the year after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, the National Wildlife Federation sponsored a series of hearings where more than 120 Alaskans impacted by the oil spill testified before a commission about their views and concerns, illustrating the grave impacts of the spill on Alaska’s wildlife and citizens.

Their stories, thoughts and emotions were then brought together by the National Wildlife Federation in a publication titled, The Day the Water Died.

For more personal stories behind the tragedy of Exxon Valdez, read these excerpts from the testimonies.


By Jim Adams, NWF Regional Executive Director, Alaska Regional Center and Western Regional Center

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For all the latest news on how the oil spill is impacting the Gulf Coast’s wildlife & to learn how you can help, visit www.nwf.org/OilSpill.