Exxon Mobil Corporation is one of the largest publicly traded and world known international gas and oil company that offers energy, which enable to strengthen the growing economies of the world and at the same time, it improves the living standards of the people living around the world (Michael et al. 2015). It has committed towards being the premier petrochemical and petroleum organisation in the world. However, this company had been unsuccessful in focusing on its CSR and its objectives when the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster had happened i.e., on March 29, 1989 and it was to ensure the safety and protection of the environment and that of the people. Exxon Valdez oil spill is one of the most devastating human caused environmental disaster which had happed in the Prince William Sound, Alaska when the oil tanker- Exxon Valdez, had struck to the Bligh Reef of the Prince William Sound’s (Fontugne 2015). This phenomenon has resulted in the spill of about 270,000 to 760,000 barrels. The total petroleum industry, especially the oil refinery industry has some different procedures and processes which are to some extent very destructive and harmful for the environment as well as the health of the common people. The vessel of the oil was travelling outside of the usual shipping lanes for avoiding the ice and within six long hours of its grounding, Exxon Valdez spilled about 10.9 million gallons cargo of Prudhoe Bay Crude and about eight out of eleven different tanks on the board were completely damaged (Weis 2014). This event has influenced more than thousand miles of non-continuous coastline in the Alaska and that made the Exxon, the most devastating and the largest oil spill in the history of waters in the United States. The event had resulted in many destructive and negative impacts towards the affected areas. It has influenced the environment to a great extent and that has resulted in economic impact to the living of the common people. However, this paper is going to elaborate on the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster and would link it between the neoliberal policies and practices promoted through the different World institutions and by the influential Western governments such as that of USA and Canada. Furthermore, this paper would also present the changes in the management system of government and the Exxon in order to prevent the event from occurring once again in the future.
Background and history-The Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster is considered to be an industrial disaster (Rung et al. 2018). Industrial disaster refers to those processes of the major disruption and harm that are caused by the hazardous or harmful industrial products and production systems. This disaster or crisis is rooted from all the industrial corporations or organisations that are activated by the industrial accidents. With the same, it also results in damage of the environment as well as all the living being present in the ecosystem and at the same time, disturbs all the linked organisational, social, cultural, political and economic systems. According to the RIP + HOT framework of Mochizuki et al. (2018), the major contributory factors to the failures and the internal factors like HOT- Human, Organisational and Technological and external factors like RIP- Regulatory, Infrastructure and Community Preparedness. Often, the technological factors trigger accidents and with the same, the organisational and human context of the technology motivates the preconditions for the accidents. At the same time, it is also to note that this escalates the damages from the accidents that are caused because of the inadequacy of the natural or the human made resources for coping up with the affects or impacts. However according to Aderhold et al. (2017), the internal and the external factors that have caused the failure of Exxon are that of the failures in the technological systems, the failures in the organisational systems and the failures outside the Exxon.
- a. Failures in the technological systems- The failures in the technological system are the deficiency in the designing of the ship. The significant deficiency in the design of the ship is the lack of the double hull on the ship that had increased the possibility of the oil spillage in the water (Hassler 2016). With the same, the outdated communication equipment too were faulty and that had resulted in the lost in touch in between the coast guards and the port at the time of crucial moment. Furthermore, it is also to note that the caption who was in command of the ship too was under the influence of alcohol consumption and this had resulted in his incorrect ordering of the procedures. The third mate who was in control of the vessel during the time was fatigue and was not qualified enough for the responsibility and that had resulted it to head of the Prince William Sound. Along with these, the crew that was present on the ship were shorthanded and had low alcohol too and that was completely against the safety procedure and policy of the ship.
- b. Failures in the organisational system- The deficiency in the organisational system during that time were many. There were insufficient treatment program for the substance abuse for all the employees and the personnel (Roman and Lauren 2016). The loose security system prevailing at that time had permitted alcoholic drinks and drunk captain to abroad the vessel. Furthermore, it is also to state that the top management of the Exxon had failed to look after the several different safety issues and also has a misperception of the threats present in transporting of the oil. Also, the Exxon Shipping Company too had failed to offer a rested and adequate crew along with a fit master to run the ship because of the cost cutting pressures. Furthermore, the lack in the follow-up or monitoring actions of the organisation considering the problem of drinking of the Captain Hazelwood has also contributed a lot in the entire disaster to take place (Olin 2018). One of the most notable failures which too needs to get mentioned in this context is the emergency plan of the Exxon, which was completely poor and unrealistic and that had resulted to the impotency or inability of the Exxon Company to contain the oil spill.
- c. Failures outside the Exxon- There are many external failures that have resulted in the oil spill disaster and the most noteworthy are the five separate government emergency plans, which have completely failed to contain the oil spill. Those five plans were the regional contingency plan, the national contingency plan, the state emergency response commission plan under the SARA Title III, the on-site coordination plan and the spill control, counter measures and prevention program by the Clean Water Act. With the same, the state of Alaska had also failed to mobilise the equipment, permissions, personnel and various tools that could assist in decreasing or subsiding the impacts of the spill as it is authorised by the state laws (Bates 2014). Also, the Insufficient VTS (Vessel Traffic Service) as well as the efficient pilotage service together along with the outdated and poor gadgets and equipment, absence of sufficient number of personnel, crews and the poor training of the personnel were all considered to the be the contributing factors in this phenomenon. Lastly, in this context, the United States Guard had failed to observe and monitor the inconsistent and unpredictable behaviour of the Exxon Valdez as it swerved the outside of the shipping lanes.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill and the neoliberal policies and practices promoted by the World institution- Neoliberalism was launched during the end of 1970s as a response by the political or governmental elites to the threat that was posed by the increasing strength of the organised labour in the developing and already developed countries and the drive for a much more autonomous postcolonial path of development in all the developing countries (Fukuyama 2017). In the earlier case, the growth of unemployment meant that the wage increment or increase was halted and the pressure was extended by the tariff reductions as well as the liberalisation of the capital flows. However, in the latter case, the success of the OPEC from the year 1973 in the process of repatriating a growing proportion of the oil surplus had exemplified the wider drive towards the national control of the resources. There is a very complex relationship in between neoliberalism and environmental disaster. Straight forwardly, one of the main consequences of the worldwide shift towards the neo-liberalization right from the year 1980 is the notable increase in the environmental degradation. At both the global as well as the local level, the introduction of the neoliberal economic policies have placed a considerable stress upon the natural environment. The accelerating destruction of the environment, the living beings and the marine life since after the oil spill disaster is one of the widely known examples which had a very serious impact on the climate change as well as on the loss of biodiversity. Moreover, one could assert that despite of the increasing stances of the environmental movements all around the world, the balance sheet on the environmental outcomes of neoliberalism is almost certainly destructive and negative in many aspects. Where the environment has assumed to be an important as well as a rising status on the national political agendas of the most developed nations right after the 1980’s, the shifts towards the neoliberalism has represented a notable increase in the environmental degradation at the global and the local level. However, the fierce critics of Neoliberalism have stressed focus on the commitment of the world to the policies and practices of the neoliberal ideology and is at the same time one of the significant cause of the environmental crisis as well as a barriers to its resolution (Forbes 2016). Hence, it is appropriate to affirm that the concept of neoliberalism have initiated in the end of 1980 and has also accounted for the notable stress upon the environment of the planet base. Both the global as well as the local level, the environmental disasters has increased because of the direct impacts of the neoliberal economic policies as well as the intensification of the world economic development that have been fostered by the neoliberalism.
The impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster- This disaster has caused cultural, social and economic impact over the citizens of Alaska to a great extent. This oil spill had greatly damaged the cultural foundation of the living beings of Alaska. It is very important to note that the existing cultures of the natives were dependent on their personal relationship with the environment. Prior to the oil spill, the natives were depending on their experiences and observations in order to know if the animals there are safe to it or not. If in case, any of the animal looked ill, then it was not taken or consumed by the people. Nevertheless, after the occurrence of the oil spill, the people living there have become much more aware of the safety of all the resources inclusive of the terrestrial mammals. With the same, there were also some of the residents who had reported that the berries that grew in those uplands have been influenced by the fumes which are raising from the oil present in the water bodies as well as on the beaches. Along with that, the economic instability of the region, along with the destruction of the nature that is regarded as the major resources for living, the conflicts in between the fishermen in Alaska had increased. Also, this disaster had influenced the environment and the ones living on it, especially in the marine lives like seals, sea otters, krill, sea lions, salmon and herring. The oil spill had added insult to all the injuries due to the decline of the population of harbour seal (Nabi et al. 2017). Two out of twenty six species that have been studied by the trustee council of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill have also recovered bald river otter and eagle. Hence, the disaster had killed more than ten times as many birds as any other European and US oil spill in the history along with more than half million birds have died. At present, the chronic effects of the oil spill have decreased the reproduction of the birds. Also, there are many fishes that have been died because of this disaster. However, the most critical and significant damage was their rearing and spawning habits. It has also been recorded that more than hundreds of the salmon streams were oiled. In addition to that, the study of the Alaska Oil Spill Commission of 1990, despite of the efforts of many non-government and government agencies, only fourteen percent of the oil was removed at the times of clean-up operations. Hence, it continues to contaminate the wilderness, national parks and beaches (Geer and Best 2016).
It is also to note that, in particular, this disaster had also affected the trade of the region to a great extent, especially the fishing industry of Alaska. It has been recorded that the native Alaskan and the fisherman had lost an estimated price of about 1 billion dollar, while the native fishermen are said to have lost a total of 580.4 million dollars as because of the fact that the oil spill have affected the reputation of Alaskan salmon and the additional of 154.8 million dollars due to the damage in the ecosystem and the depletion of the fish stocks (Ward et al. 2018). With the same, the tourism industry in that region has been also affected by the oil spill that have resulted in vital financial losses to the Alaska. It had also influenced the different industries, segments and sectors in the Alaskan region inclusive of the tour packages to Alaska, the guided outdoor activities as well as the sightseeing and charter boats. Furthermore, it is also to state that it is also declared that the image of the natural environment in this region was tarnished for ever for this disaster to take place. Above all, the disaster had affected the energy industry to a large extent in USA. It is to note that the Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska has accounted for twenty five percent of the domestic or local petroleum production in the United States. This oil spill had resulted in drastic cut back of the total production at the Prudhoe Bay from two million barrels each day to 800 thousands. As a result, Los Angeles, California was highly influenced, the retail free regular grade gasoline prices had rapidly increased by 6 % per gallon four days right after the oil spill.
The changes and the improvements after the disaster
The Exxon Mobil Company- After the phenomenon of the oil spill disaster, there were many notable operational changes which were been implemented via the operational management for preventing the same incidents in the coming future. With the same, it is also to mention that there were also several changes in the procedures and operations inside the organisation that consist of the implementation and monitoring of the alcohol and drug testing programs, the modification of the tanker routes, the restriction of the safety sensitive positions for the employees who have no history of abuse of any of the substance, the improvement in the development and training programs for the pilots and the vessel captains, the application of the new technology for improving the vessel navigation, the implementation of much more intensive evaluation of the vessels and the facilities of the Exxon Mobil and lastly, ensuring the integrity of the system of oil containment. Moreover, the Exxon Company also focus on answering the risk associated. Basically, the Exxon Mobil is the founding member of each and every major oil spill response centres in the world along with more than thousands of employees of the company are engaged in the oil spill response teams in the world (Varella and Jacobs 2017). With the same, it is also to mention that the company has also implemented an improved technology in identifying and detecting the oil spills.
Role of the Influential Western Governments in the matter- Both the government and the company Exxon had implement changes in the policies for preventing the same problem to occur in the coming future. Firstly, as a response of the oil spill, the OPA or the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was passed by the United States Congress. The act prohibits or restricts those vessels which have caused the oil spilling of more than one million US gallons in a marine area from operating in Prince William Sound. In the year 1998, the company also argued in a legal action against the federal government that the ship should be sent back to the Alaskan waters. The company claimed that OPA was effectively a bill of attainder. In the year 2002, the OPA prevented a total number of 18 ships from entering into the Prince William Sound. It has also set a schedule for the gradual phase in of a double hull design that had provided an additional layer in between the ocean as well as in the oil tanks. In addition to this, it is also to note that Steve Cowper, the then governor of Alaska had also issued an executive order that needed two tugboats for escorting each and every loader tankers from the Valdez out in the entire vicinity of the Prince William Sound up to the entrance of Hinchinbrook (Disasters 2017). The authorities of West Virginia and Pennsylvania had conducted several shoreline counts for determining the number of fishes that were been killed by the disaster. After the incident, every year, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has funded the monitoring and the research projects.
Information from all these projects has assisted in defining the condition and the status of the services and the resources. The recovery monitoring projects have tracked the level and rate of recovery of the services and resources that are injured by the spill. They may also determine when the recovery has occurred or detect reversals or issues with the recovery. The research projects have provided information that are required for restoring an injured resource or the service or the information about the ecosystem relationships. Furthermore, the British Petroleum (BP) has played a central role in the Botched Containment of the 1989’s Exxon Veldez Disaster.
Industrial disaster has been always considered to be one of the most devastating kinds of disasters that highly affect the lives of the living being, the environment, the economy, altogether with the cultural and social aspect of the society. Along with this, it is very important for the industrial companies, especially the ones who are safety sensitive organisations like the ones that falls under the petroleum industry for focusing on its overall management system that would further assist in preventing the threats and risks of the future crisis or disaster. With the same, it is also one of the very crucial aspect of the overall CSR of every company, especially in current days, when the entire world is becoming more aware of the consequences of climate change or global warming. There is no doubt about the fact that this disaster is regarded to one of the most devastating and destructing disaster of all time and it is because of the fact that it has caused damage to the whole ecosystem in a region wherein people are dependent on the nature for their living. This has resulted in influencing not only the economy of Alaska but also the whole economy of USA. The paper has also showed that both the national and the local government were at fault as because of their lack in efficiency in monitoring the activities of the safety sensitive companies like Exxon. This disaster could have been prevented if Exxon and the national and local government focus on the worst situation as well. For the part of government, it could have been prevented if it would have been vigilant in looking after and monitoring the performances of every safety sensitive companies in the country and if had a better contingency plan for the operation. However, as for the part of Exxon, the disaster could have been prevented if it has a better operational management plan and system that focus more on the quality of the machines and the equipment of the ship, its crew and rest other employees and the risk management process. However, until now, the outcomes of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill could still be felt by the local citizens, especially- which focus on their cultural, social, environmental and economic lives.
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