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Exxon Mobil in ‘The day the water died’

This blog post is about Exxon Mobil’s oil spill catastrophe Exxon Valdez in 1989 and its reaction to it. During the research I want to learn more about the tremendous oil spill, I want to find out if and how the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility changed after the disaster and to get some important questions answered. This blog post is the continuation of my last blog post where I reported about BP’s oil spill Deep Water Horizon in 2010.

Exxon Valdez

It all began on March 24, 1989 when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez en route from Valdez, Alaska to Los Angeles, California, hit a well-known reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The around 11 million gallons of crude oil, which were spilled, had an impact over 1,100 miles of Alaska’s coastline. The Exxon Valdez was the largest oil spill to that date in the United States.

The article: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill – Alaska 1989. And The response of ExxonMobil, written by the Green World Group, informs that Exxon Mobil hired more than 11,000 personal, 1,400 vessels and 85 aircraft personal, more than any other company before, to clean the oil spilled area. Although Exxon Valdez contaminated a huge area of 40,900 to 120,000 m3, the oil pollution was exceeded by BP’s oil catastrophe Deepwater Horizon in 2010.

“BP’s spill was estimated to be 185 million gallons, and this count does not include the 800,000 that BP managed to capture. For a clearer comparison, the Deepwater Horizon spill was like an Exxon-Valdez spill happening repeatedly every one to ten days in the Gulf of Mexico”

Comment by the Green world Group

How did Exxon Mobil respond to the oil spill?

The Green World Group reports further that Exxon Mobil regretted the tragic oil spill Exxon Valdez in public and comments that the company took responsibility for it. Exxon Mobil tried to clean up and voluntarily compensated fisherman and all of those who were directly affected by the catastrophe. More than 11,000 Alaskans and businesses which claimed damages were paid $300 million at once and voluntary by Exxon Mobil. Between 1989 and 1992 the company cleaned up Prince William Sound and spend around $2.2 billions for it. The company had its own scientists who studied the consequences of the oil pollution which commented that no species would have had serious troubles due to the Exxon Valdez oil spill and that the Prince William Sound ecosystem had been fully recovered.

Did Exxon Mobil really pay a fair compensation?

The movie “The Legacy of Exxon Valdez” only agrees to some extent to the article by the Green World Group. Although Exxon Mobil paid the high amount of $300 000 millions for compensation, fines and the clean up, it was still not enough for fishers and businessmen to get back to normal business. In the movie some fishermen were interviewed and commented that Exxon Mobil had paid compensation just for the first year. Many businesses had gone bankrupt, marriages had split up and suicides had increased noticeably in the area around Prince William Sound where the oil disaster happened.

Did the ecosystem truly fully recover?

The movie disagrees with Exxon Mobil’s statement that the Prince William Sound is fully recovered and also contradicts the declaration that the oil spill didn’t have any deep impact on the ecosystem. Since the contamination the herring industry in the spilled area, which was valued with appoximately $12 million a year, is dead. According to a fisherman interviewed in the movie, the loss of the herring caused many bankruptcies in the affected fishing villages and many people don’t know how to pay their bills and continue life . However Exxon Mobil’s Vice President of Public Affairs rejects reproaches and argues that the disappearance of  the herring was due to a virus and that it would have nothing to do with the oil spill.  This argument is still being reviewed by scientists. Nevertheless not only the loss of the herring has hurt the people around Prince William Sound also the food sources became toxic overnight after the oil pollution. .

Today, oil is still contaminating the shores and bankrupted fishermen are still waiting for a sufficient payout granted in 1994. Now that the case has reached the increasingly pro-business US Supreme Court and fishermen fear they could end up with nothing.

Exxon Mobil’s CSR today – has anything changed?

Besides being the world’s largest oil refiner in the world, Exxon Mobil was ranked sixth on “the Toxic 100 list of US corporate air polluters of the World”, this comments Stephanie Roger in her blog post “Profits Before People: 7 of the World’s Most Irresponsible Companies”

In addition to the catastrophe Exxon Valdez and other “smaller” oil spills in the past, the company made a lot of bad headlines. Besides lobbying, Greenpeace accused Exxon Mobile of sabotaging efforts to deal with climate change and manipulating scientific papers and studies. In 2001 the company was accused of committing human right abuses including torture, killings and rape in the territory of Aceh in Indonesia. The case is still pending, the company denies all the charges. These are just a few examples from Exxon Mobil’s opponents, if you are interested in reading more about it, click here.

After comparing and contrasting BP’s and Exxon Mobile Corporate Social Responsiblity it looks that both companies are doing well in making profit, spilling oil, covering-up and green washing.  Unfortunately it seems that oil catastrophes like Exxon Valdez and Deep Water Horizon could happen again at any time!

What can be done to make the oil industry safer? How can we prevent those oil spills and protect our seas from these catastrophes -or can we just stand on the sidelines?

Look forward to hearing from you!

See you next week!


Leave a comment


  1. To prevent these disasters from happening we simply have to stop using oil.
    Now, we know this is not possible. At least not in the short- run.
    Therefore we have to search for a way to make the transportation of oil safer.
    The big oil companies probably won’t make the effort themselves because it is expensive. It seems cheaper for them to react and give financial compensation when the catastrophe has already happened.
    I think government regulations or strong protest movements can be strong signals to these companies that change is needed.

  2. Hey Kathrin and Martin,
    I think another way how to change things is to ignore their stocks. I mean I do not actually know how many percent the private households own from a business like that, but I am pretty sure that it will have an impact on the firm if no household is buying their stocks anymore and this will also cause reaction from the media. Maybe this will have enough power to force them to change their policies.


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