Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: Fifteen Years Later

Defenders of Wildlife Fact Sheet

(03/24/2004) - When the Exxon Valdez ran aground fifteen years ago in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, the resulting spill of at least 11 million gallons of oil awakened the nation to the dangers of extracting and transporting oil in wild places. The damage, which continues to this day, reminds us that as we continue the quest for energy, we must do so in a way that protects our nation’s wildlife and wilderness areas, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

  • The oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on the Bligh Reef at 12:04 a.m. March 24, 1989 , spilling at least 11 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound ; many analysts now believe that Exxon significantly underreported the actual volume of the spill.
  • The spill killed between 1,000 and 2,800 sea otters, at least 300 harbor seals, 22 orcas, and as many as a quarter of a million sea birds. The Exxon Valdez spill, combined with the 427 oil spills that Alaska still suffers annually, show that there are significant risks to oil exploration.
  • The Exxon Valdez spill contaminated 1,500 miles of shoreline, approximately the same length as California ’s coast.
  • Researchers published findings in the December, 2003 Science magazine that documented significant amounts of trapped, highly toxic oil still polluting Prince William Sound.
  • As a result of the spill, a jury ordered Exxon to pay $5 billion punitive damages, which the company has adamantly refused to pay. Much of this fund would go to compensate commercial fishermen whose livelihoods were devastated by the spill. For example, the once bountiful herring fishing season has been closed in ten out of the last 15 years.
  • Exxon (now Exxon/Mobil) has made more than $149 billion in profits over the last 15 years.
  • Drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge remains a high priority for the Bush Administration, despite overwhelming public opposition and repeated defeats on Capitol Hill. The U.S. Geological Service has estimated that the Refuge contains less than six months worth of U.S. oil consumption, and would not reach market for another ten years.
  • The United States consumes 25% of the world’s oil, but has only 3% of known oil reserves. We cannot drill our way to energy independence or lower gas prices. The President’s own Energy Department recently released a report saying that even if the Arctic Refuge were opened to oil drilling, America ’s dependence on foreign oil will continue to grow. Our nation must invest in conservation and clean energy alternatives to meet our energy needs, while reducing the risk of another Exxon Valdez disaster.


Defenders of Wildlife is one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and habitat, and was named as one of America's Top 100 Charities by Worth magazine. With more than 450,000 members and supporters, Defenders is an effective voice for wildlife and habitat. To learn more about Defenders of Wildlife, please visit www.defenders.org.



Brad DeVries, (202) 772-0237
William Lutz, (202) 772-0369

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