Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Updated Spring 2007 by Professor Ron Smith for students at Buffalo State College


Supertanker Exxon Valdez, second newest in fleet, 984-feet,
24 Mar 1989, 9:12 p.m. ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Calm seas, clearly marked maps
Uncertified 3rd mate Gregory Cousins at helm
Capt Joseph Hazlewood had been drinking heavily & was resting

11 million gallons of crude oil spilled
Still (2007) largest oil spill in US history

Wind & current carried spill to 1,500 miles of shoreline

Dead: 500,000 birds (90 species), including 150 bald eagles
4,500 sea otters
14 killer whales
Salmon, herring, clams, mussels, seaweed
No human life lost, though 4 deaths associated with cleanup
Immeasurable toll on tourism & fishing industry


Public Relations Situation:
Crisis Management

Stage 1: Continuing environmental crisis as oil spill spreads amid public scrutiny

Stage 2: Ongoing corporate challenge from legal problems, still amid world scrutiny


Formative Research Phase

Analysis of Issue

Analysis of Organization

Analysis of Publics

Strategy Phase


Action/Response Strategy

Communication Strategy

Tactics Phase

Evaluation (& Continuation) Phase


Public Relations Lessons

Company failed to follow own procedure;
showed little leadership;
failed to show concern;
failed to involve media;
failed to respond to activists

Crisis is difficult to deal with internally;
appropriate response often goes against organizational mindset

Public will forgive accidents;
less willing to forgive unpreparedness or arrogance

Short-term gain is off-set by long-term financial, legal & reputational pressures


Protests continue (Nov 2005, Pacific Marine Expo, Seattle)

Connect with Ron Smith's home page.

Contact Ron Smith at smithrd@buffalostate.edu.