Recently a small group of employees from the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council loaded up in a small boat for a two-hour ride out to Eleanor Island.
It’s about a 60-mile trip from Valdez to one of the first islands to first be saturated by oil left after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, said group leader Mark Swanson.
“This is probably the hardest impacted beach,” Swanson said.
This is a hands-on trip for the newer employees to see the long lasting effects of an oil spill.
It’s hard to picture this area covered in some of the 11 million gallons of crude oil that spilled from the ship. Exxon spent more than $4.4 billion as a result of the spill. That money includes cleanup payments, settlements and fines. Exxon says $2.2 billion was spent on the actual cleanup.
Today Eleanor Island, and Prince William Sound appear pristine. On the boat ride out to the island people were snapping pictures of the sea lions, whales and countless fish that could be seen jumping out of the water.
Once the crew docked on the beaches they began to dig. About a foot below the surface, they uncovered oil.
As water pooled into the hole, a sheen could be seen on the the water and oil dotted the spoons people dipped into the holes.
For the newer employees this is a first-hand look at the lasting effects of a spill.
“It’s one thing to study in a classroom, and then to come here and see and imagine what the fishermen and the locals had to go through, it’s like looking into a little part of our dark history,” said one of the newest group members, Alicia Zorzetto.
Since the spill there are increased safety precautions in place, in part because of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council. Tugs now accompany oil tankers. The group acts as an industry watch-dog and is funded by the oil industry.
“We live with oil, we need oil, and we appreciate our oil industry and all it does for our state,” Swanson said, "but we really have to be mindful that a lot of protection is required to make sure we don’t have another spill because the consequences just don’t go away.”