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Engineering Disaster: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Essay


Over the last few decades, the public has become increasingly aware of the dangers industrialization pose to society.

Despite the numerous benefits that have been accrued from industrial progress and technological advancement, growing concern regarding the safety of products and by-products manufactured by various industries has led to swelling debates among various social and political sectors.

Ultimately, the engineering sector has been forced to showcase high levels of social responsibility and legal liability in all its endeavors. However, accidents still occur due to structural and planning inadequacies.

This paper shall provide an in depth discussion regarding the engineering disaster that led to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Overview of the case study

On March 24th 1989, an oil tanker named Exxon Valdez rammed into a reef and spilled over eleven million gallons of crude oil into the sea at Prince William Sound.

While no human lives were lost during the incident, the effects of the disaster on marine life was devastating. It became the largest and most publicized man-made environmental disaster in America.

Investigation into the incident indicated that communication and structural factors led to the occurrence of this gruesome event.

Causes of Exxon Valdez oil spill

According to documented literature, the Exxon Valdez had been designed to carry two million barrels of oil daily. Caution was not exercised in regulating the operations and inspecting the systems of the tanker, due to its success rate.

In regard to this incident, there are speculations that the captain was drunk and was not at his post during the incident. As such, the third mate steered the ship using the autopilot mechanism.

However, the report submitted by the NTSB indicated that the incident was as a result of equipment malfunction (the sonar was not working). Further reports indicate that the captain decided to take an unapproved shortcut in order to avoid icebergs.

In addition, cheap construction of the ship’s hull contributed to the reduction of the safety margin. The ship had a single hull system, which was cheaper than the recommended double hull system. This means that there was no extra protection in case the hull was punctured.

Analysis of the problem

From the information presented above, it is evident that the ship was taking an unsanctioned shortcut through shallow waters without a captain, or a sonar system.

This human error combined with the engineering flaws (poor maintenance, below standard hull system and faulty equipments) led to the occurrence of this disastrous event. For example, implementation of proper engineering procedures would have helped the crew in detecting the errors that led to the disaster.

Similarly, the risk aversion and containment procedures were lacking. The ship had 19 crew members onboard. There is no way they could have adequately maintain the whole ship or implement containment procedures on time.

Solution to the problem

Safety issues should not be ignored in any endeavor. As such, it is the duty of all engineers to ensure that their work does not lead to the loss of property or lives. One way of ensuring safety is by developing a safety and regulatory board.

This board would be tasked with the duties of setting safety standards for all vessels, and supervising them to ensure that all ships are maintained as per the expected standards.

In this case, such a board would have ensured that the sonar was working, and the ship was well equipped and structured to carry the stipulated volume of crude oil.

Secondly, laws should be enacted to govern the structural, human and equipment requirements needed to run oil tankers and other sea vessels. For example, there should be laws that set the weight limit of various oil tankers, as well as the structural requirements for tankers (double hulled).

In addition, all oil tankers should have two escort response vehicles (ERV) to ensure that support is there whenever it is needed. If such laws were there before the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the occurrence would have been averted or maintained at a safe level.

For example, ERVs would have offered valuable support before the rescue services and containment units reached the scene. However, due to lack of such services, the oil spill was out of control by the time the recovery teams arrived at the scene.


The environment plays a pivotal role in facilitating the survival of various life forms. As such, measures should be implemented to safeguard it against natural and man-made disasters. In this essay, the causes and effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill have been discussed.

Viable solutions that could have been used to avoid or contain the incident have also been provided. Evidently, there were structural and human errors that led to the oil spill. These errors could have been averted if the engineers did their jobs efficiently.

Therefore, companies that manufacture and maintain such vessels should improve their safety standards and work ethics in order to avoid a repeat of such a disastrous incident. In so doing, the environment will be safe from such events.

This Essay on Engineering Disaster: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill was written and submitted by user Bradley Compton to help you with your own studies. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Bradley Compton studied at Boston University, USA, with average GPA 3.16 out of 4.0.

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Compton, B. (2019, June 26). Engineering Disaster: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Work Cited

Compton, Bradley. "Engineering Disaster: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill." IvyPanda, 26 June 2019,

1. Bradley Compton. "Engineering Disaster: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill." IvyPanda (blog), June 26, 2019.


Compton, Bradley. "Engineering Disaster: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill." IvyPanda (blog), June 26, 2019.


Compton, Bradley. 2019. "Engineering Disaster: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill." IvyPanda (blog), June 26, 2019.


Compton, B. (2019) 'Engineering Disaster: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill'. IvyPanda, 26 June.

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