Environmental and Economic Impacts of the Fergana Valley Oil Spill

 The Fergana Valley Oil Spill occurred on March 2nd, 1992. The valley is located in Central Asia and stretches across northern Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan, and eastern Uzbekistan. The valley was discovered during the early 1900s near the town of Namangan, where they later established the Mingubak Oilfield which produced as much as 2.2 million tons per year. To this day, the Fergana Valley Oil Spill was the largest inland oil spill to occur throughout the Earth where a total of 285,000 tons of oil was released, also ranking it the 5th largest oil spill ever recorded. The Fergana Valley Oil Spill had detrimental effects on the environment, economy, as well as the people who lived around the Mingubak Oilfield.

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 In detail, The Fergana Valley Oil Spill occurred due to a blowout at well #5 on March 2nd, 1992. First reactors when the well #5 first blew open set up walls around the well which kept damage minimal at first. Due to the lack of well-capping and oil removing technology the problem became larger as they tried to siphon oil from the contaminated areas into trucks which was a slow and rigorous process. On April 6th, 1992 well #5 caught fire resulting in a sky of smoke which raised additional environmental and health concerns in the Uzbekistan region. This caused the local government to reach to the U.S. for assistance where they asked for technological assistance and an assessment of the situation pertaining to the local community’s safety. It is estimated that around 35,000 to 150,000 barrels of oil was released from well #5 per day. In total it is estimated 2,000,000 barrels of oil was released. The oil spilling from the well stopped by itself after some time once the source was dry.

 When the U.S first entered Uzbekistan, they enacted certain rules in effort to stop the well from spilling. The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act was used which purpose was to “protect against the risks to life, property, and the environment that are inherent in the transportation of hazardous material in intrastate, interstate, and foreign commerce”. In addition, the U.S. provided technical support, assessed the health and environmental consequences, and helped the Uzbekistan government establish a contingency plan for future incidents. Although the oil spill didn’t have great effects on the environment or the people who live there, it strengthened the relationship between Uzbekistan and the U.S and allowed for a better prepared future.

 The combined efforts of the Uzbekistan government and the U.S. eventually led to the end of oil spilling from well #5. The U.S. provided Uzbekistan with technology capable of well-capping and oil removal and also ran many tests throughout the environment in order to deem the contaminated area safe for human interaction. The U.S. determined a small amount of oil reached the Syr Darya river which was 100 meters from the pooled oil and 200 meters from well #5 itself. The team also determined that the large plume of smoke presented no immediate danger to the environment, but caused some difficulty to children, elders, and those with respiratory conditions.

 When the Fergana Valley Oil spill occurred, the Uzbekistan government was underprepared and attempted to set up a dam to hold the oil from spilling more. From this, they began to siphon out the oil to trucks where they would move them to an undisclosed area to reuse or remove the oil. This oil spill costed more than the people of the Mingubak Oilfield made and therefore created a problem they couldn’t handle alone. The Uzbekistan government contacted both the U.S. government and private U.S. oil corporations for assistance in return for a reward. The U.S. was also motivated to help the people of Uzbekistan because they were becoming influenced by Communism due to all the disorder and lack of leadership during that time. The total monetary cost of the Fergana Valley Oil spill was estimated to be little to none because the U.S. came back with their technology once the well ceased to spill oil and most work was done by Uzbekistan officials except testing of the environment which was handled by a specialized team for the time period.

 The overall impact of the Fergana Valley oil spill was not long lasting and currently has no effects on the environment or society today. At the time of the incident on the other hand, many were affected but most notably were the workers of the Mingubak Oilfield. It is estimated that 535 of the 1500 workers involved suffered an oil related injury due to the lack of protective clothing when well #5 blew open. Although a small amount of oil was released into the Syr Darya river, there were no lasting effects on the people or marine life to this day and in 2017 China and Uzbekistan revisited the Mingubak Oilfield in order to asses its long term potential and see if the area is still rich with oil. At the time of the incident, the workers continued to work the other wells in order to cut back their loses from losing all that oil. Thanks to the quick response of both the U.S. and Uzbekistan there were no long lasting effects of the Fergana Valley Oil Spill.

 In my opinion, the transport of potentially hazardous material using the marine environment is not a viable option because there are too many risks at sea when oil and marine life are involved. The oil would cause much more damage to the marine environment than it would to the inland environment making transportation by sea not a viable option. To conclude, the Fergana Valley Oil Spill did not have a lasting effect on the environment, marine life, society, or the economy and built relations between the U.S. and Uzbekistan.

Works Cited

Forster, Teo. “1992 Fergana Valley Oil Spill.” Prezi.com, 29 June 2016,              prezi.com/pk0nzx0enw0r/1992-fergana-valley-oil-spill/.

“MARCH 1992: THE FERGANA VALLEY MASSIVE OIL SPILL.” Energy Global News, 28 July 2018, www.energyglobalnews.com/march-1992-the-fergana-valley-massive-oil-spill/.

Mikucki, Jacob. “Fergana Valley Oil Spill.” Prezi.com, 30 Jan. 2013, prezi.com/sa7ib_oqnapz/fergana-valley-oil-spill/.

“Mingbulak Oil Spill.” Wikiwand, www.wikiwand.com/en/Mingbulak_oil_spill.

“My Site.” Home, allen07.weebly.com/.

Revolvy, LLC. “‘Mingbulak Oil Spill’ on Revolvy.com.” Revolvy, www.revolvy.com/page/Mingbulak-oil-spill.


Con Edison East River Oil Spill


    The Con Edison East River spill took place on the May 07,2017 between 12.30pm-1.30pm.

    The oil was released from Fraggut substation in Brooklyn near to the east river.

    The catastrophic failure caused 37000 gallons of dielectric fluid an mineral oil that is used to prevent electric discharges leaked into the river.

    The oil did not directly leak into the river it first seeped into the ground and then gradually started to seep into the river.

    During the spill approximately 5200 gallons of mineral oil was spilled in the river but only 520 gallons were recovered.

    The same substation had approximately 179 leaks before this one but this one was one of the largest. The company then ran a test on Thursday to see how the leak was caused, so they squirted a green dye into the soil to see where it leads into the river.

    Divers inspected around the waterfront substation and the perimeter and found 4-inch hole in the ground. They found the hole and plugged it to prevent any further leaks.

    They also decided to build a barrier around the substation to prevent any such incident in the future. They used booms, absorbent sheets and skimmers to clean up the oil.


Evaluated Data

Transformer oil

Transformer oil (insulating oil) is an oil that is stable at high temperatures and has excellent electrical insulating properties. Transformer oil is most often based on mineral oil, but alternative formulations with better engineering. It is also known as insulating oil or Mineral. Insulating Oil or Mineral oil or Transformer oil. Stable at high temperature. Excellent electrical insulating properties. Primary functions are to insulate and cool a transformer. Transformer oil is any of various colorless, odorless, light mixtures of higher alkanes from a mineral source, particularly a distillate of petroleum.


•         Toxic

•         Not Flammable

•         Eye irritation

•         May irritate the skin

•         Does not affect marine life

•         Dangerous to life and health for long time exposure

Mechanical Properties

•         High thermal conductivity.

•         High chemical stability.

•         High dielectric strength.

•         Flash point – 140 ⁰C or greater.

•         Pour point – 30 ⁰C or lower.

•         Dielectric breakdown voltage 28kV or greater.


    An Oil  spill occurred in East river because of an equipment failure by Con Edison ’s Farragut substation which is located near by east river, Dumbo, Brooklyn, New York  city.

    The East river is salt water river in NY city, It connects to upper New York bay. The water way is navigable for its entire length for 16 miles and was historically the centre of maritime activities in the city.

    No Action Scenario:

    If they do not take action at a time, wind can spread spilled oil in water and make it difficult to locate.

    It would be spread by ferries, boats and ships and sometime it could be toxic for surrounded inhabitants and marine wild life as well.

    If the leak mixes with the ground water drinking water can be contaminated.












    For response options, They can consider some spill clean up techniques like plant

    Booms, take help of various types of skimmers, marine Dispersants and in-situ burning

    So deployment of Booms and Skimmers and Absorbent sheets would be the best option to apply on oil spilled area to collect oil from water body surrounded by marine wild life and human beings.

    When Oil spill happened in east river because of a ‘Catastrophic’ transformer failure, Con Edison company has responded immediately to spill by placing booms , Absorbent sheets and skimmers into the River.

    Company employees and contractors were working cordially with the US Coast Guard and New York state Department of Environmental conservation


    River is surrounded by approx. 26,36,735 people so it is not possible to spray dispersants and apply in-situ burning because of harmful and toxic to living organism.

    When talk about marine dispersants, it is used frequently and easy to put on but their long term effects are limited and dispersed hydrocarbon might enter in food chain laying worst effects on environment, marine life and human beings.

    In-situ burning can increase air pollution and risk associated with health and safety of workers as well as damage caused by residue from spill as well as incomplete combustion of oil

    They should have put booms on the periphery of substation sight which can cover river side area and can help to prevent oil spill spreading out in the river and Skimmers can skim oil easily from close periphery.

    Various types of skimmers can help to collect or recover oil from water as weir skimmers, Oleophilic skimmers which attracts oil, Drum type skimmers, belt skimmers and disk skimmers.

    When spill started on Sunday and by Monday night the hazardous fluid had spread so far out in the river so coast has declared a ‘safety zone’ and after being a ‘no wake zone’ area.

    After 4 days of oil spill, company patched 4 inch hole that they believed allowed the spill in the river.

    The hole was discovered during test that was conducted in which Con Edison engineers squirted a green dye into ground and around the facility which can led where spill happened and being spread in the River.



Facts Data And Consequences


    The transformer oil did not directly leak into the river but it first seeped into the ground and then it started to leak into the river.

    The leaking oil started to enter into the East river, Con Edison responded immediately to the spill by placing booms, absorbent sheets and skimmers into the river.

    A statement was made by Con Edison spokesperson Allan Durry that “the company’s employees and contractors were working cordially with the US coast guard and the New York state department of environmental conservation”.

    The spill started on Sunday afternoon and by Monday night the hazardous fluid had spread so far out into the river that the coast declared a “ safety zone” stretching from the water of Green Point and Midtown down to Red Hook.

    Due to the spill all the ferries, boats and all other marine vessels were prohibited to enter into the river to avoid any type of contact with the oil.

    By Tuesday they started to have little but slow movements so as to comply with a “ no wake zone” in the spill area.

    Conroy a spokesperson at Con Ed said that it isn’t that toxic as kinds of oils we usually associate with oil spills, such as diesel fuel and petroleum, however if any humans come in contact with the oil they should immediately wash their skin and avoid touching their eyes as the oil can cause irritation to eyes and skin.

    Reposts said that previously the substation had spewed more than 8400 gallons of transformer oil, hydraulic oil and antifreeze into the soil and the river over the years. This data is from the “State’s Spill Incident Database”.

    The same substation had approximately 179 leaks before this one but this one was said to be the one of the largest spills amongst all the others. The facility had the most number of spills in the city, according to a review of the State’s Database which tracks spills back to 1978

    The Con Ed site on 59th Street and 12th Avenue in Manhattan had the second worst environmental record for the agency according to the state’s database.

    The synthetic mineral oil was considered “non-toxic” by the state’s DEC and is less harmful to water quality and wildlife.

    Approximately 5,200 gallons of mineral oil was spilled in the river. But they still cannot account for the 37000 gallons of dielectric oil that could still be trapped in the soil or lost into the river during the equipment failure.

    Con Ed officials said that Thursday they patched a 4-inch hole that they believed allowed the spill in the river. The hole was discovered during a test that was conducted in which Con Ed engineers squirted a green dye into the ground and around the facility and divers around the waterfront substation inspected the perimeter to see where the green water made its way into the river.

    The officials said they found one little hole and plugged it so prevent any further spill.

    They also added that next month they would build a new barrier and and substation to shore up the location against future spills.

    520 gallons of oil was skimmed from the river.

    The green dye that was used during the test was nontoxic and would not harm the fishes or the environment and is frequently used by agencies to find out different leaks.

    The Boaters, ferry, riders and North Brooklyn residents were notified that if they see green streaks or sheens on the river they should not be alarmed said the officials.

    The current of the river made it almost impossible to collect and locate the spilled oil.

    The oil that was collected contained low levels of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCB’s which pose mineral hazard to the public.

    There were delays and service changes for the New York city ferries which caused economical loss too.

    Along with the changes in ferries Con Ed also noted that the equipment failure led to a “voltage dip” that affected the MTA’s subway signalling system leading to train delays.


It is necessary to have an emergency plan to deal with the consequence of the oil spill.  A response strategy specialist should identify the best suitable measures to the assigned scenario. This will help them to choose appropriate methods to minimise environment impact that cause by the oil spills. Those method that we use commonly are, Booms, Skimmers, chemical dispersants, sorbents, in situ burning, vacuum systems, pumps, and shoreline cleanup systems etc. (Characteristics of Response Strategies n.d.)

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 In the current scenario of the Con Edison East River Oil Spill in the downtown Brooklyn, New York, was really a challenging task to choose the suitable response as it was near the urban area where a lot of people live. So, it wasn’t easy for them to choose some common measures. After a brief examination and research of the surrounding spill area they finally end up with these following suggested methods. (East River Oil Spill 2017)


Booms are temporary floating protection barriers which used to contain marine spills and protect the environment. Many kind of booms available which are suitable for different occasions that ranging from small, lightweight models which are suitable for small marine spills in sheltered water which can deploy manually through to the robust open sea booms which is very large and require sizeable vessels to handle them. (Containment & Recovery – ITOPF n.d.)there are three classification for booms based on its size and the maximum height of the waves where the oil spill occurred. The con Edison oil spill happened in the East River New York where the wave height is some around 0.5 meter. As the water is protected type we assumed the height of the boom between 55 to 110 cm. (Li et al. 2018)


The function of skimmers is to remove the oil from the marine water surface and skimmers usually used with booms to clear all the oil which contained with booms. Selecting the skimmer design base on the oil viscosity as well as the sea condition. As the skimmer floats on the water same like booms, it will face operational difficulties posed by waves, wind and current. Most skimmer designs efficiency will drop even with moderate wave motions. Simple skimmers are devices which suck and remove oil from the surface of the marine water. This design usually use on the calm condition. Another complex design comes with discs, ropes or oleophilic belts. Another one is with brush system which generates vortices to recover the oil. (Containment & Recovery – ITOPF n.d.)  In our situation as it was light oil, they used the brush skimmers which is efficient enough to clean heavy oil as well as light they used it along with the vacuum/suction which is most efficient for light to medium oils. (TIP_5_Use_of_Skimmers_in_Oil_Pollution_Response.pdf n.d.)

Chemical Dispersants

These are the combination of emulsifier. this is sprayed on the surface of leaked oil and it will help the oil to breakdown and make it smaller droplet which is really easy to mix with the sea water. But the chemical dispersants don’t help to reduce the volume of oil entering the environment but it will move the oil from the surface to underwater and make it less visible. That makes it still hazardous to the marine life under the ocean.  (Dispersants n.d.)dispersants are usually apply with aeroplanes or helicopters. But it can be applied with boats too. Make it more efficient and increase the chance make it effective the service in charge people usually coose the beast combination of chemical and droplet size as well as rate of application. Also, for perfect target they use spotter planes which has infrared detectors to identify the spills.

 as it is not environment friendly and the oil spilled in east river wasn’t toxic they didn’t need to use this.


Sorbents are materials which is insoluble or material mixtures which is used to recover spilled oil by using the absorbing mechanism. absorbents help to absorb the spilled oils and store in its molecular structure. The absorbents should be at least seventy percent insoluble in excess fluid. And commonly absorbents are really helpful to clear up final trace of oil after the skimmer been used. And the sorbent must be both oleophilic and hydrophobic in order to effective in the nature. (Sorbents | US Environmental Protection Agency n.d.). sorbents are classified into three, organic, inorganic, and synthetic. The common sorbents are synthetic sorbents like nylon fabrics, synthetic sorbents as they are environment friendly and high pick up rate. In our situation they have used synthetic sorbents.

Pump/Vacuum System

They recover  oil with the boom and skimmers are pumped it to storage tanks using suitable pumping system (Oil Spill Response Field Guide, 1996). They recover wide range of liquids from the water and even from the ground. And vaccuming trucks are available and its often called spill clean up service. These things can suck any kind of oil. But the vaccum system isn’t much efficient if the skimmer isn’t attached to the suction hose. (Oil Spill Vacuum Systems | Learn more at cleanupoil.com n.d.)

Shoreline Clean-up

The main aim to clean oil spill is to not disturb our ecological system surround the spill area so that includes the shoreline. In shoreline clean-up very common method is physical clean-up procedures that includes natural recovery. For this we use vacuum systems and remove contaminants manually.

The spill which left open, will be later cleaned up by the biodegradation and evaporation. The manual cleanup procedures include clean up light debris and small oil traces by shovels and trucks. (How Do Oil Spills Get Cleaned up on Shore? | response.restoration.noaa.gov n.d.)

considering all the responses, it is hard to follow or trust a single cleaning method. So, a combination of several methods are attributed for effective cleanup process. So, the con Edison east river oil spill used a combination of different methods that mentioned above including booms, sorbent, skimmer and shoreline cleanup methods.


“Characteristics of Response Strategies.” : 76.

“Containment & Recovery – ITOPF.” https://www.itopf.org/knowledge-resources/documents-guides/response-techniques/containment-recovery/ (June 11, 2019).

“Dispersants.” https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/energy/dirty_energy_development/oil_and_gas/gulf_oil_spill/dispersants.html (June 11, 2019).

“East River Oil Spill: ‘Catastrophic’ Con Ed Fail Spews 37,000 Gallons Of Transformer Oil.” 2017. New York City, NY Patch. https://patch.com/new-york/new-york-city/east-river-oil-spill-coned-transformer-spews-37-000-gallons-dialectric-fluid (June 10, 2019).

“How Do Oil Spills Get Cleaned up on Shore? | Response.Restoration.Noaa.Gov.” https://response.restoration.noaa.gov/about/media/how-do-oil-spills-get-cleaned-shore.html (June 11, 2019).

Li, Yaqin, Shannon L. Meseck, Mark S. Dixon, and Gary H. Wikfors. 2018. “The East River Tidal Strait, New York City, New York, a High-Nutrient, Low-Chlorophyll Coastal System.” International Aquatic Research 10(1): 65–77.

“Oil Spill Vacuum Systems | Learn More at Cleanupoil.Com.” https://www.cleanupoil.com/oil-spill-vacuum-systems/ (June 11, 2019).

“Sorbents | US Environmental Protection Agency.” https://archive.epa.gov/emergencies/content/learning/web/html/sorbents.html (June 11, 2019).

“TIP_5_Use_of_Skimmers_in_Oil_Pollution_Response.Pdf.” https://www.itopf.org/fileadmin/data/Documents/TIPS%20TAPS/TIP_5_Use_of_Skimmers_in_Oil_Pollution_Response.pdf (June 11, 2019).

“Uscg Fog.Pdf.” https://www.nrt.org/sites/2/files/uscg%20fog.pdf (June 11, 2019).


Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Responses

This particular crisis began on March 24, 1989 after the Valdez oil tanker struck Bligh Reef. The impact of the collision tore open the ship’s hull causing some 11 million gallons of crude oil to spill into the water, spawning a flurry of governmental, environmental, and media attention. Over the course of several months, the government, scientists, environmentalists, and Alaska residents tried to reduce the harm the oil was having on the environment an economy. Meanwhile, Exxon struggled in every area. They struggled to appropriately respond, manage backlash from their CEO’s response, prepare for legal cases, and salvage its public reputation.

Situational Crisis Communications Theory

 Crisis management includes different aspects of to detect potential crises, called prodromes, and to learn from crisis experiences. Also, crisis management has continued to emphasize post crisis communication and evaluating the use of crisis response strategies. The situational crisis communications theory (SCCT) falls into the post crisis category. This model is used to demonstrate how crisis response strategies can be used to protect reputational asses after a crisis. This theory tries to explain what stakeholders do to protect themselves from the crisis, what happened, and what the organization is doing to fix the crisis and to prevent the same crisis from happening again.

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Over the years SCCT has suggested several ways in which crisis response strategies can be classified and understood. For example, Fearn-Banks proposes that crisis responses can be grouped into three clusters, namely the victim cluster, the accidental cluster and the preventable cluster. It explains that the victim cluster consists of natural disasters, rumors, workplace violence and product tampering actions, and the organization itself is also a victim of the crisis. An organization that distances itself from the crisis and refuses to take responsibility for the crisis fits the definition of the victim cluster (Fearn-Banks, 2011). The accidental cluster is characterized by technical-error accidents, technical-error product harm, and challenges (leading to inappropriate actions). Within the accidental subtype, the organization has minimal attributions to the crisis event and does not have crisis intentions in its actions (Fern-Banks, 2011).

The third crisis cluster characterizes a crisis as an event that a company creates by deliberately placing people at risk, taking inappropriate actions, or violating laws/ regulations (Fearn-Banks, 2011). This cluster is referred to as the preventable cluster and consists of human breakdown accidents and recalls, organizational misdeeds with or without injuries, organizational misdeed and management misconduct (Fearn-Banks, 2011). In these instances, stakeholders may be correct to attribute the crisis to the organization. Regardless of the type of crisis, a response strategy will be required. In that case, the response strategy will be determined by the complexity and the type of the crisis event (Fearn-Banks, 2011).

Victim Cluster

With the first cluster, the victim cluster, Exxon arguably tried to put themselves in this cluster by using communication and media. It is obvious that Exxon did not follow the guidelines for best practices mentioned above. I would argue that Exxon’s initial response was not timely or thoughtful enough. Exxon did take a preemptive approach to protect their assets by discouraging increased government regulation of oil transportation, citing it as unnecessary and potentially dangerous (Johnson and Sellnow, 1995).

Seven months after the spill on October 2, 1989, W.D. Stevens who was the president of Exxon Company implied that the crisis happened due to “human imperfection” and that Exxon was fully capable of cleaning up during the Alaska State and Anchorage Chambers of Commerce hearing. This followed the earlier statements that Exxon felt that government regulation was unnecessary, and Exxon was a victim of government bureaucracy. Stevens used that speaking opportunity to try to salvage Exxon’s image while trying to avoid even more policies that restricted oil transportation. Also, Johnson and Sellnow emphasize that “the concept of accountability is critical for maintaining a positive public image” (1995). Although, it is obvious that Exxon did not take full responsibility for the crisis and engaged in unethical crisis communication strategies including denial, scapegoating, justification, and evasion of responsibility (Johnson & Sellnow, 1995).

Exxon had many issues during this crisis but perhaps the biggest one was the fact that Exxon refused to take responsibility for the crisis and instead blamed anyone and anything else. Exxon blamed the capital of the Exxon Valdez and the third mate, Gregory Cousins, because Hazelwood was intoxicated during the incident and put Cousins who was inexperienced in charge of the Exxon Valdez (Fern-Banks, 2011). Exxon also blamed the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, U.S. Coast guard for the out of date radar, the Alaskan government for not waiting on Exxon to clean up the spill, the weather, and the Department of Environmental Conservation ().

The second biggest mishap of the crisis was that Exxon clearly did not have a chain of command to handle the crisis. In the wake of the spill, there was no communication from the very top of Exxon, who was CEO Lawrence Rawl. Instead Frank Iarossi who was the president of Exxon shipping was the main representative at the spill site (Fearn-Banks, 2011). There was no statement from Rawl for 10 days and it came in form of a letter that clearly lacked remorse. Also, there was no visit from Rawl to the spill site for nearly three weeks.

Once the cleanup of the spill had been initiated, Exxon hardly participated in any efforts in containing and cleaning up the crisis like they should have. Instead, Atlantic Richfield (ARCO), British 10 Petroleum (BP), and five other companies initially participated in the response (Johnson and Sellnow, 1995). Exxon soon after took over the clean-up efforts from the other companies and the local fisherman once the backlash from that became apparent.

Accidental Cluster

In the accidental cluster, the company did not have crisis intentions in its actions, including technical breakdown accidents, recalls, challenges and mega-damage (Fearn-Banks, 2011). Obviously, the company did not have an intention of creating a crisis when the oil tanker set sail on March 24 so one could argue this position and put this crisis in this category. Exxon also could address the fact that they cut down on the number of crew members on the Valdez which led to them being overworked and exhausted. Many of the crew members were exhausted, a routine feeling on Exxon ships, they testified, having worked an average of 140 hours of overtime a month per person. The ship carried a crew of 20, a third less than on some older vessels. This downgrading was approved by the Coast Guard after Exxon argued that the new technology of the Exxon Valdez and other tankers of its class did not merit larger staffing; but the modern instruments did not keep crew and officers from frequently going long stretches with no or little sleep and working extensive overtime on every sail (Egan, 1989b). Clearly, Exxon would have preferred if this crisis never happened, however, it did, and in my opinion, it could have been prevented.

Preventable Cluster

 In the preventable cluster, characterizes a crisis as an event that a company creates by deliberately placing people at risk, taking inappropriate actions, or violating laws/regulations (Fern-Banks, 2011). This cluster consists of human breakdown accidents and recalls, organizational misdeeds with or without injuries, organizational misdeed and management misconduct. In these instances, stakeholders may be correct to attribute the crisis to the organization. Regardless of the type of crisis, a response strategy will be required. In that case, the response strategy will be determined by the complexity and the type of the crisis event. Exxon put people and animals at risk, took inappropriate actions in its response, and violated laws/regulations.

 There were three main factors have been identified as contributing to the incident, the first one was that the captain Joseph Hazelwood put the supertanker on autopilot and headed straight for Bligh Reef, some confusion pointed Hazelwood had been drinking that night; the second factor was the third mate Gregory Cousins was not qualified to take command during that critical period; the third factor was the Exxon’s corporate culture, the company cut the number of people worked on the tanker, so the employees worked long hours and didn’t have enough rest. Exxon also did not have a prompt response time to media, the publics questions, and it lacked openness and honesty from the beginning. They also did not have the proper clean up kit on board the Valdez, they did not take the proper steps to clean up the environment, nor did they respond to the Alaskan residents that made their living off the sound.

 The initial response from Exxon was not only late, but it lacked openness and honesty expected from organization who were at fault in times of crisis. Exxon did not release a media statement until the early afternoon hours of March 25 and it was not then CEO Lawrence G. Rawl who spoke it was spokesperson David Parish (Shabecoff, 1989). Some would argue that this delayed response can cause people to search for sources of information, and make the company appear it was hiding something. This sense of distrust continued to peak throughout the crisis as Exxon did not handle the clean up as they should have.

Exxon, through David Parrish its spokesperson stated that “the company did not expect major environmental damage” (Shabecoff, 1989). In that very same article, environmentalists rebutted the assertions of the company directly state, “this spill would cause drastic damage to the abundant marine life’ (Shabecoff, 1989). This effort by Exxon to try to downplay the effects that the spill was going to have affected the company’s image and was not received by the public very well.

Exxon was not open and honest about the spill’s impact on the environment and that was an overwhelming error especially since the company had cut resources to the tactical spill response team (Associated Press, 1989). This was made worse when Rawl was asked about cutting the spill team, he refuted them stating “he had no knowledge”, again worsening the public confidence (Associated Press, 1989). Several days later on March 27 after making that statement, Exxon contradicted themselves by stating that the environmental effects where going to be larger than anticipated. On March 29th Exxon revealed that it was going to be unable to contain its spill (Associated Press, 1989).  This revelation was further impacted when Exxon failed to appropriately clean up the spill and instead local fisherman and state officals were taking the lead role in the massive clean up attempts.


Exxon’s response to the tragedy in the Price William Sound, the grounding of the Exxon Valdez has long been seen as the example of a failure in Crisis Communication. Without a concreate crisis communication plan already in place, Exxon’s response to the oil spill was not handled well. Exxon made decisions with reactionary movements, limited resources, and planning. Efforts to communicate with the media were often contrary to statements from other media sources. Exxon should have had a concreate Crisis Communication Plan in place before the Valdez crisis occurred. That is why this is viewed as a failure across the spectrum, Exxon did not do anything the way they should have.

Exxon could have had a through crisis management plan in place. Starting with clear objectives that were used as guidelines and goals to make sure that the plan was effective. Exxon also should have had a clear crisis communication team. There were too many spokespersons releasing too many contradicting messages. There should have been clear key spokespeople with clear roles such as Dan Cornett who was the president of Exxon Alaska, David Parish who was the Exxon Worldwide spokesperson, and Frank Iarossi who was the president of the Exxon Shipping company. All of these men were high ranking Exxon employees who were present at the spill site, had ties to the area and Exxon, and could have fostered a more open way of communication. This would have given clear roles and messages to the public while providing them faces to associate with Exxon and giving them people to give them answers to their questions.

Exxon’s response to this spill should have been quick and effective instead of lagging and lazy. Exxon is a part of an industry that some publics may preconceived ideas about and then needed to reassure all publics that they were doing everything that they could to stop the leak, clean up the environment, compensate those who were impacted, and investigate the situation thoroughly.

Exxon should have a strategy in place to communication with stakeholders and provide information to ensure that they understood clearly what was going on and how they were remedying the situation. External stakeholders such as the EPA, NOAA, Alaska’s Fish and Wildlife Department, the community, and the people who made their livelihood off of the contaminated water should have been taken into consideration when making Exxon was making all decisions. Exxon should have made sure to clearly communicate when any information came up, they should have made sure that the information was correct and not contradictory, and they should have apologized.

Overall, the best strategy Exxon could have implemented is the forgiveness strategy. They should have accepted full responsibility for the crisis, the cleanup, environmental remediation, and the financial compensation of those who were impacted. Also, Exxon could have even used the sympathy strategy show that they were also a victim of incompetent employees and their own decisions that led to the cuts to the oil spill cleanup teams, less employees, and longer hours.


In my opinion, Exxon’s response to this crisis is an example of how corporate greed can negatively impact a large corporation and its publics if faced with a crisis. If Exxon really never expected a crisis like this to happen when they were shipping millions of gallons of oil over difficult to navigate water ways is foolish. There are some lessons to be learned from this crisis, but the biggest one is to make sure that you have a solid relationship with your publics and to a crisis plan that includes a crisis communication plan in it. I hope that Exxon and other companies learn by looking back at this tragedy to make sure to always respond immediately to a crisis with appropriate human emotion/empathy and take responsibility for the loss of life or damage no matter what. Also, there needs to be a statement from the CEO of the company, even if the CEO is not the designated spokesperson. Someone from the top of your organization must be on scene and managing the project. Instead of doing that, Lawrence Rawl, sent lower ranked executives to Alaska instead of going there himself which gave the impressions that Exxon disregarded the spill.

Exxon should have made sure that they were heard and heard promptly. Obviously, there was not Social Media platforms back in 1989, but Exxon didn’t still do enough to get the message out about how they were responding to the crisis. They held their news briefings in a remote Alaskan town which was not the best location to get media out worldwide then spent millions of dollars to run newspaper ads when they could have been using that money to clean up the spill.

The biggest things that organizations should take away from examining this crisis is: get your facts straight and take responsibility. At one point, an Exxon spokesperson said damage from the spill would be minimal, while others said the damage was likely to be substantial. There is no use trying to downplay a worldwide crisis. However, it is useful to remember that the public will likely be more forgiving if you show compassion and competence. Exxon did not get the facts straight which is something publics frown upon especially when your organization is supposed to be an authority in the business in which it operates.

Overall, Exxon’s image was permanently tarnished. Angered customers cut up their Exxon credit cards and mailed them to Rawl, while others boycotted Exxon products. Exxon was forced to pay financially and legally; however, they seem to have made a recovery economically but not reputationally and certainly not environmentally. Cleaning up the Exxon Valdez disaster took four summers and cost approximately $2 billion, according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. In 1991, Exxon reached a civil settlement with the U.S. government and the state of Alaska in which it agreed to pay $900 million in payments, a $25 million criminal fine and $100 million in restitution (Latson, 2013).

This happened 25 years ago, so we might note the anniversary as we do any other historical event. That, however, would imply that the oil spill is over. It’s not, and likely never will be. The sound’s coastal ecosystem is permanently damaged. Thousands of gallons of Exxon Valdez oil still pollute the beaches; this oil is still toxic and still hurting the ecosystem near the shore. The government considers, as of 2010, only 13 of the 32 monitored wildlife populations, habitats and resource services that were injured in the spill as fully “recovered” or “very likely recovered.” Some are still listed today as “not recovering (Holleman, 2014).

There is so much to learn about and from the way that Exxon handled the Valdez Oil Spill in terms of crisis communication. By using the SCCT theory I was able to show that while this was certainly a crisis, it was also preventable by Exxon. Exxon handled this crisis poorly on many different levels and one could argue that they continue to handle it poorly due to the lack of continuous environmental cleanup in Prince William Sound. However, this is one of the foundational crises that an organization, especially those in the oil industry can learn from. As oil exploration and transport continues to become more international, exposing to risk more inhabitants, coastlines, and ports of the world with their diverse environments the local postmodern communications lessons from the crisis of the Valdez and its recovery, learned at such a painful cost, can be of global value.


Associated Press. 1989. Exxon Reduced its Staff of Oil Spill Experts. New York Times. March 29. 1989, p. A20.

Egan, T. 1989. Exxon Concedes it Can’t Contain Most of the Oil Spill. New York Times. 1989, New York Times, p. A1.

Egan, T. 1989. Elements of Tanker Disaster: Drinking, Fatigue, Complacency. New York Times. 1989, New York Times, p. B7.

Fearn-Banks, K. (2011). Crisis communications: A casebook approach. New York: Routledge.

Holleman, M. (2014, March 25). Opinion: After 25 years, Exxon Valdez oil spill hasn’t ended. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2014/03/23/opinion/holleman-exxon-valdez-anniversary

Johnson, Darrin & Sellnow, Timothy (1995) Deliberative rhetoric as a step-in organizational crisis management: Exxon as a case study, Communication Reports, 8:1, 54-60, DOI: 10.1080/08934219509367607

Latson, J. (2015, March 24). Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska Still Affecting Environment. Retrieved from http://time.com/3748246/exxon-valdez-history/

Shabecoff, Phillips, 1989. Captain of Tanker had Been Drinking, Blood Tests Show. New York Times. March 30, 1989, p. A1.