Painful Legacy Predicted For Gulf Of Mexico Oil Spill
As oil spreads and threatens the Gulf of Mexico, Alaskans along the Prince William Sound are reliving an all too familiar story.
Towns like Cordova are still dealing with the consequences of March 24, 1989, the day the Exxon Valdez ran aground.
The oil tanker dumped 11 million gallons into the ocean, contaminating 1,500 miles of coastline, killing hundreds of thousands of seabirds, otters, seals and whales, and devastating local communities.
The spill stopped after just a few days but the people and the environment are still recovering.
The primary industry along the coastline was herring fishing, and owning a permit was a valuable asset.
Within a few years of the spill, the Herring population diminished drastically.
21 years later, herring numbers have still not recovered enough to be fished commercially.
Prince William Sound still bears the physical and emotional scars from the Exxon Valdez and dozens of islands off the coast are still home to layers of oil.
David Janka is a researcher and guide in the Prince William Sound. He still remembers the chaos of 1989.
[David Janka, Prince William Sound Researcher]: (Male, English)
"Ten thousand people and a thousand boats trying to ... It was just a chaotic mess. That's why there were problems with the management of the clean-up because there were so many people thrown into something that nobody had any experience with."
Drawing on this experience, Cordova became a forerunner in oil spill management.
Environmental groups, scientific organizations and experts in the psychological trauma of oil spills have made a home in Cordova.
A network of fishermen is now trained and paid by the oil industry to respond if another disaster strikes.
RJ Kopchak was a herring fisherman and a vice-mayor of Cordova when the tanker ran aground.
For two decades he has spent his time and energy helping his city and its neighbors recover from the spill.
[RJ Kopchak, Science Center Development Director]: (male, English)
"You know Cordova and I think all of the impacted communities have addressed and responded to all of the challenges that we've had to deal with. I think we've done that in a real proactive way. In 1989... you know we're sitting here in the science center, in 1989 we started a research institute to follow up on the oil spill. In 1990, we wrote provisions in the national oil spill recovery act, you know, OPA 90 that created the Oil Spill Recovery Institute."
After the Exxon Valdez spill, laws were passed and practices were put in place to help prevent and plan for another such catastrophe.
The U.S. Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, phasing in the double hull ship requirement, which a study said could have cut the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill by 60 percent.
The current spill threatens the Mississippi River delta and other areas of the U.S. Gulf Coast at a rate estimated at more than 5,000 barrels a day.
Although weather appears to be cooperating with clean-up efforts, the delicate environments of the Gulf Coast await the devastating slick.
Regional environments are different and each face their own specific challenges.
But if Cordova and Alaska as a whole are any indication of what lies ahead for the Gulf, there are many years of struggle, clean-up and recovery ahead.