It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

when the Exxon Valdez hit the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, spilling about 40 million litres of crude oil.

The Exxon Valdez being escorted by Coast Guard ships
Click the photo to see it at full size.

Unlike many other oil spills, this one worked its way into popular culture:

  • The belief at the time was that the Exxon Valdez’ ship’s master Joseph Hazelwood was drunk, leading David Letterman to make a “Top Ten List” of his excuses, one of which was “I was just trying to scrape some ice off the reef for my margarita.”
  • In an episode of Futurama, the robot character Bender crashes an intergalactic tanker into a planet because he’s not drunk enough. In the world of Futurama, robots need alcohol to function properly.
  • In the movie Waterworld, the bad guys’ boat was named the Exxon Valdez, and their patron saint was Hazelwood. Hazelwood even appears in the movie, in portrait form – here’s a still featuring the movie’s chief villain, The Deacon (played by Dennis Hopper), talking to the portrait:
    Dennis Hopper looks at Joe Hazelwood's portrait in "Waterworld"

For a little more detail about the story, here’s a July 1989 Time magazine issue: Joe’s Bad Trip.