March 24 marks 28 years since the Exxon Valdez “fetched up, ah, hard aground” on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, laying a path of destruction across Alaska’s coastal ecosystems and the countless lives they support. While Exxon officials worked hard to convince the world it spilled “only” 10.8 million gallons of crude—ostensibly to pay lower penalties—the real volume was probably at least double. Today, Exxon crude still lingers throughout the Sound’s intertidal areas.
The Alaska Oil Spill Commission and the U.S. Congress both concluded that a creeping complacency lead to the Exxon Valdez spill. Since then, oil spill prevention and response have become heightened priorities in Prince William Sound.
Cook Inlet, however, is a different story. It started in 1956, when ARCO geologist Bill Bishop famously stomped his boot into the ground near the Swanson River (in what’s now the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge), and said “drill here,” leading to the first commercial oil discovery in the state. Development soon moved offshore, with a host of platforms, pipelines and processing facilities crisscrossing Cook Inlet by the mid-1960’s.