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Oil Spill Response Limited Oil Spill Response Limited

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Spill Journal: Exxon Valdez

We reflect on some of the past spills with those who were there. This journal looks at our response to Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.

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Spill Journal: Exxon Valdez

In this article, Richard Seddon, our (now-retired) Senior Oil Spill Response Specialist, shares his memory of the Exxon Valdez spill. 

The Exxon Valdez spill occurred on 24 March 1989, when 38,000 tonnes North Slope crude was released into Prince William Sound, Alaska. OSRL teams worked on the spill from March until the end of June, doing three-week rotations. A photograph of how Richard spent his birthday was documented by international media – Richard was on Block Island, conducting a trial with a vacuum system, in -15oC temperatures. 

 

Reflections of Richard Seddon

When the spill occurred,BP Alyeska immediately mobilised the Oil Spill Response base in Southampton, requesting assistance by asking for suitable spill response equipment and oil spill experts to help with the clean-up.

A civilian Hercules L-382 aircraft was loaded with our equipment, including heavy oil skimmers, hydraulic power packs and vacuum recovery equipment and a team of four oil spill specialists travelled out to Alaska to commence the demanding task of setting up operations offshore and onshore. Several more OSRL staff and contractors joined them a few days later, but we were a very small company in those days with only 10 operational staff!

Surprisingly we were amongst the first ‘outside’ organisations to arrive in-country, even with the Hercules making three fuel stops on the way and taking 24 hours to get there.

Offshore operations were quite interesting, with our heavy oil skimmers being used in the morning when the temperatures were very low, and disc skimmers used to better effect later in the day when the oil had warmed slightly.

Due to the viscous nature of the oil and the way it behaved in sub zero temperatures, the oil was difficult to recover so we were asked to run equipment trials and try out different techniques on the many small remote islands that were heavily oiled. There were great logistical challenges of transporting equipment and people to these islands, but the resources were mainly transported by helicopter as there were no roads.

Richard Seddon spends his birthday on the shoreline of Block Island, Prince William Sound, Alaska, April 17, 1989. Credit: Associated Press Images

Did you know?

Although historically significant, the Exxon Valdez spill does not make the list of the 10 biggest oil spills in history.

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