In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground, causing 11 million gallons of crude oil to spill into Prince William Sound, adversely effecting 1,500 miles of Southcentral Alaska’s coastline. For 10th graders in Social Studies, there are many aspects to consider when grappling with the consequences of the spill, then the largest in U.S. waters. It devastated the sea life of the region, killing untold thousands of seabirds, otters, seals, and whales. The economy of Southcentral was disrupted, in many cases for years, as the livelihoods of fisherman from communities across Prince William Sound depended on the catch of salmon and herring. Further examinations may encompass the long-term scientific, environmental, socio-economic, emotional, financial, legal, and political impact of the spill.
A number of potential questions to pose:
- As a devastating human-caused environmental disaster, how did the Exxon Valdez oil spill affect the mythology of Alaska as a pristine wilderness?
- In what ways has the discourse changed, if at all, as a direct result of Exxon Valdez when discussing Big Oil, both within Alaska (as an oil beholden state), and the broader American public, particularly in light of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010?
- How did governmental, business, and environmental agencies respond to Exxon Valdez, and in what ways have oil spill response procedures evolved?
- What is the current state of sea life in Prince William Sound?
- How have the commercial fisheries-salmon and herring, in particular, of Prince William Sound rebounded 27 years after Exxon Valdez?
- What was the response of the Native people of Southcentral Alaska to Exxon Valdez?
- Over the course of two 1-hour class periods, students will first be presented with the evidence on myriad aspects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, its toll on both humans and the environment, with the purpose of holding a trial. Students will have the opportunity to advocate for the oil industry, the fisherman, the sea life, and Alaska Natives. Students are encouraged to do research on their own.
- On the second day, the trial commences.
I’m clearly not sure what to do with this trial idea. What would be the expected outcome other than, “Exxon is guilty?” Any other insights folks may have would be greatly appreciated.