On the night of March 23, 1989, the Exxon Valdez left the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal, carrying more than 1.2 million barrels of crude oil from Alaska’s North Slope. Three hours into its journey to Long Beach, California, the Valdez grounded at Bligh Reef, in Prince William Sound, rupturing eight of its 11 cargo tanks and spilling some 10.8 million gallons of crude oil.
In the wake of the spill, which still reigns as one of the largest in U.S. history, the American government established the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The legislation consolidated existing federal oil spill laws and created new requirements for prevention and response. Pacific Northwest states began creating programs to protect coastlines. Pretty soon, the number of marine vessels spilling their slippery black cargo into America’s waters declined. But now, in 2015, oil is increasingly transported by rail, not ships, and Western states are in a vulnerable position, should oil spills occur.
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