Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Crucial time passed before containment, but surprising lessons learned from a zealous remediation process.

 

“No one anticipated any unusual problems as the Exxon Valdez left the Alyeska Pipeline Terminal at 9:12 p.m., Alaska Standard Time,” an account by the Alaska Oil Spill Commission would later report about the 1989 disaster. 

After nearly a dozen years of routine daily passages through Prince William Sound, Alaska, an oil tanker ran aground, rupturing the hull. Supertanker Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef and spilled more than 260,000 barrels of oil, affecting hundreds of miles of coastline. Some consider the spill amount used by Alaska’s Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council as too conservative.

Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in 1989.

Field studies continue to examine the effects of the Exxon supertanker’s disastrous grounding on Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. Photo courtesy Erik Hill, Anchorage Daily News.

A General Complacency

When the 987-foot tanker hit the reef shortly after midnight, “the system designed to carry two million barrels of North Slope oil to West Coast and Gulf Coast markets daily had worked perhaps too well,” according to the Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s initial report. 

“At least partly because of the success of the Valdez tanker trade, a general complacency had come to permeate the operation and oversight of the entire system,” the commission report noted. Complacency about giant oil tankers ended on March 24, 1989, when the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef.

“The vessel came to rest facing roughly southwest, perched across its middle on a pinnacle of Bligh Reef,” noted the commission’s report. “Eight of 11 cargo tanks were punctured. Computations aboard the Exxon Valdez showed that 5.8 million gallons had gushed out of the tanker in the first three and a quarter hours.”

Map showing days of Exxon oil spill spreading on Alaskan coast in 1989.

“Eight of 11 cargo tanks were punctured. Computations aboard the Exxon Valdez showed that 5.8 million gallons had gushed out of the tanker in the first three and a quarter hours.”

Tankers carrying North Slope crude oil had safely transited Prince William Sound more than 8,700 times during the previous 12 years. Improved shipbuilding technologies resulted in supersized vessels.

“Whereas tankers in the 1950s carried a crew of 40 to 42 to manage about 6.3 million gallons of oil…the Exxon Valdez carried a crew of 19 to transport 53 million gallons of oil,” the report explained.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

Alaskan weather conditions — 33 degrees with a light rain — and the remote location added to the 1989 disaster, the report continues. With the captain not present, the third mate made a navigation error, according to another 1990 report, Practices that relate to the Exxon Valdez by the National Transportation and Safety Board.

“The third mate failed to properly maneuver the vessel, possibly due to fatigue or excessive workload,” the report concluded.

Containing Oil Spills

At the time, spill response capabilities to deal with the spreading oil will be found to be unexpectedly slow and woefully inadequate, according to the Oil Spill Commission’s report.

“The worldwide capabilities of Exxon Corporation would mobilize huge quantities of equipment and personnel to respond to the spill — but not in the crucial first few hours and days when containment and cleanup efforts are at a premium,” the report explained.

Detailed illustration of oil tanks inside 987-oot-long super tanker Exxon Valdez.

At 987 feet long and 166 feet wide, the Exxon Valdez — delivered to Exxon in December 1986 — was the largest ship ever built on the West Coast.

The commission added that the U.S. Coast Guard, “would demonstrate its prowess at ship salvage, protecting crews and lightering operations, but prove utterly incapable of oil spill containment and response.”

Spill Cleanup Lessons

Exxon began a cleanup effort that included thousands of Exxon and contractor personnel, according to ExxonMobil. More than 11,000 Alaska residents and volunteers rushed to the coastline to assist.

“Because Prince William Sound contained many rocky coves where the oil collected, the decision was made to displace it with high-pressure hot water,” reported the authors of “Scuba Techniques Used to Assess the Effects of the Exxon Valdez.” 

The report also noted:

However, this also displaced and destroyed the microbial populations on the shoreline; many of these organisms (e.g. plankton) are the basis of the coastal marine food chain, and others (e.g. certain bacteria and fungi) are capable of facilitating the biodegradation of oil.

At the time, both scientific advice and public pressure was to clean everything, but since then, a much greater understanding of natural and facilitated remediation processes has developed, due somewhat in part to the opportunity presented for study by the Exxon Valdez spill.

Field and laboratory studies have examined affects of the oil spill, which resulted the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

According to ExxonMobil, the company spent $4.3 billion as a result of the accident, “including compensatory payments, cleanup payments, settlements and fines. The company voluntarily compensated more than 11,000 Alaskans and businesses within a year of the spill.”

A study conducted by the Alaska Oil Spill Commission resulted in the February 1990 report, “Details about the Accident.”

Experts have continued to review effects of the Exxon Valdez grounding on Bligh Reef; most have reported that although the ecosystem in Prince William Sound continues to recover, it is healthy.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

In March 2014, a 70-page review by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA report), “Twenty-Five Years After the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: NOAA’s Scientific Support, Monitoring, and Research,” examined the incident and NOAA’s involvement in the response, operational monitoring, and subsequent research.

Two decades before Alaska’s 1989 Exxon Valdez grounding, an oil spill from a Union Oil offshore platform six miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, led to the modern environmental movement — and establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Learn more about the 1969 California offshore accident in Oil Seeps and Santa Barbara Spill.

_______________________

Recommended Reading:  The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, Perspectives on Modern World History (2011); Slick Policy: Environmental and Science Policy in the Aftermath of the Santa Barbara Oil Spill (2018); Amazing Pipeline Stories: How Building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Transformed Life in America’s Last Frontier (1997). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

_______________________

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2023 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/transportation/exxon-valdez-oil-spill. Last Updated: March 16, 2023. Original Published Date: March 24, 2009.

 

Dome Gas Station at Takoma Park

Library of Congress photo tells many early automobile tales.

 

Among the thousands of images in the Library of Congress online digital collection, many offer insights for understanding the early U.S. petroleum industry.

Details found in just one 1921 black-and-white photograph of a Washington, D.C., suburb captured an interesting scene of petroleum products’ infrastructure. Originally printed from an eight-inch by six-inch glass negative, the Library of Congress image features Takoma Park, Maryland, and its railroad station on the northeastern border of the District of Columbia.

Today a quiet residential community, Takoma Park was established in 1883 by New York venture capitalist B.F. Gilbert and was among the first railroad-accessible suburbs to downtown D.C.

Dome Gas Station at Takoma Park in 1921.

Despite “blemishes resulting from a natural deterioration in the original coatings,” this 1921 image of a Takoma Park, Maryland, gas station from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division helps preserve U.S. petroleum history.

“Takoma ‘s development followed a prototypical pattern for similar real estate ventures throughout the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” noted local historian Lisa Bently in 1999.

“The little community was promoted as offering healthy living (it occupies land several hundred feet higher than the lowlands of downtown Washington), fresh air, and uncrowded living conditions,” she added.

(more…)

Remarkable Nellie Bly’s Oil Drum

Famous New York World reporter of 1880s would take charge of Iron Clad Manufacturing Company.

 

She was one of the most famous journalists of her day as a reporter for the New York World. Widely known as the remarkable Nellie Bly, Elizabeth J. Cochran Seaman, investigated conditions at an infamous mental institution, made a trip around the world in less than 80 days — and manufactured the first practical 55-gallon oil drum.

The 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., promoted her Iron Clad Manufacturing Company as “owned exclusively by Nellie Bly – the only woman in the world personally managing industries of such magnitude.”

Nellie Bly's business card and her oil drum patent drawing assigned to her as Elizabeth Cochran Seaman.

Recognizing the potential of an efficient metal barrel design, Nellie Bly acquired the 1905 patent rights from its inventor, Henry Wehrhahn, who worked at her Iron Clad Manufacturing Company.

(more…)

First Gas Pump and Service Station

Service stations gasoline pumps began with an 1880s device for dispensing kerosene at an Indiana grocery store.

 

Presaging the first gas pump, S.F. (Sylvanus Freelove) Bowser sold his newly invented kerosene pump to the owner of a grocery store in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on September 5, 1885. Less than two decades later, the first purposely built drive-in gasoline service station opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Bowser designed a simple device for reliably measuring and dispensing kerosene — a product in high demand as lamp fuel for half a century. His invention soon evolved into the metered gasoline pump.

Gasoline pump and hose deisgns illustration, 1915 to 1935.

Gas pumps with dials were followed by calibrated glass cylinders. Meter pumps using a small glass dome with a turbine inside replaced the measuring cylinder as pumps continued to evolve. Illustration courtesy Popular Science, September 1955.

Originally designed to safely dispense kerosene as well as “burning fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum,” early S.F. Bowser pumps had marble valves with wooden plungers and upright faucets.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

With the pump’s popular success at Jake Gumper’s grocery store, Bowser formed the S.F. Bowser & Company and patented his invention in late October 1887.

first gas pump S.F. Bowser volatile liquid dispenser patent 1887

Bowser’s 1887 patent was a pump for “such liquids as kerosene-oil, burning-fluid, and the light combustible products of petroleum.”

As consumer demand for kerosene (and soon, gasoline) grew, Bowser’s innovative device and those that followed faced competition from other manufacturers of self-measuring pumps. In Wayne, Indiana, the Wayne Oil Tank & Pump Company designed and built 50 of a new model in 1892, the company’s first year of business (learn more in Wayne’s Self-Measuring Pump).

first gas pump "calm shell" early pump image from road map

S.F. Bowser’s “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pumps” became known as “filling stations.” An upper clamshell closed for security when unattended.

Despite the competition, in the early 1900s – as the automobile’s popularity grew – Bowser’s company became hugely successful. His grocery store pump consisted of a square metal tank with a wooden cabinet equipped with a suction pump operated by hand-stroked lever action.

Beginning in 1905, Bowser added a hose attachment for dispensing gasoline directly into the automobile fuel tank. The S. F. Bowser “Self-Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump” became known to motorists as a “filling station” as more design innovations followed.

The popular Bowser Model 102 “Chief Sentry” with its “clamshell” cover offered security when the pump was left unattended (see the 1920 Diamond Filling Station in Washington, D.C.).

 

An early gas station attendant fills a n auto gas tank.

Manufactured in 1911, an S.F. Bowser Model 102 “Chief Sentry” pumped gas on North Capitol Street in Washington D.C., in 1920. The Penn Oil Company’s pump’s topmost globe, today prized by collectors, survived only as a bulb. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

With the addition of competing businesses such as Wayne Pump Company and Tokheim Oil Tank & Pump Company, the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana, became the gas-pump manufacturing capital of the world.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

Some enterprising manufacturing companies even came up with coin-operated gas pumps.

Oil tank truck for Lightning Motor Fuel, a British product.

Penn Oil Company filling stations were the exclusive American distributor of Lightning Motor Fuel, a British product made up of “50 percent gasoline and 50 percent of chemicals, the nature of which is secret.” The secret ingredient was likely alcohol. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

First Drive-In Service Station

Although Standard Oil will claim a Seattle, Washington, station of 1907, and others argue about one in St. Louis two years earlier, most agree that when “Good Gulf Gasoline” went on sale, Gulf Refining Company opened America’s first true drive-in service station.

Gulf Refining Company had been established in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1901 by Andrew Mellon and other investors as an expansion of the J. W. Guffey Petroleum Company formed earlier the same year to exploit the Spindletop oilfield discovery in Texas. The company’s motoring milestone took place at the corner of Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in downtown Pittsburgh on December 1, 1913.

Unlike earlier simple curbside gasoline filling stations, an architect purposefully designed the pagoda-style brick facility that offered free air, water, crankcase service, and tire and tube installation.

Gulf Refining Company's first U.S. auto service station in Pittsburgh, circa 1910.

Gulf Refining Company’s decision in 1913 to open the first service station (above) along Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was no accident. The roadway had become known as “automobile row'” because of its high number of dealerships. Photo courtesy Gulf Oil Historical Society.

“This distinction has been claimed for other stations in Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Louis and elsewhere,” noted a Gulf corporate historian. “The evidence indicates that these were simply sidewalk pumps and that the honor of the first drive-in is that of Gulf and Pittsburgh.”

The Gulf station included a manager and four attendants standing by. The original service station’s brightly lighted marquee provided shelter from bad weather for motorists. A photo of the station, designed by architect J.H. Giesey, may or may not have been taken on opening day, according to the Gulf Oil Historical Society.

“At this site in Dec. 1913, Gulf Refining Co. opened the first drive-in facility designed and built to provide gasoline, oils, and lubricants to the motoring public,” noted a Pennsylvania historical marker dedicated on July 11, 2000.

Early gas pumps seen curbside at parts store.

Spitlers Auto Supply Company, 205 Commerce Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia, closed in 1931. It was an example of curbside pumps used before Gulf Refining Company established covered, drive-through stations.

The drive-in station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at 27 cents per gallon on its first day, according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

“Prior to the construction of the first Gulf station in Pittsburgh and the countless filling stations that followed throughout the United States, automobile drivers pulled into almost any old general or hardware store, or even blacksmith shops in order to fill up their tanks,” the historical commission noted at ExplorePAhistory.com.

The decision to open the first station along Baum Boulevard in Pittsburgh was no accident. When the station was opened, Baum Boulevard had become known as “automobile row” because of the high number of dealerships that were located along the thoroughfare.

first gas pump earliest road maps of 1920s Gulf Oil

Until about 1925, Gulf Refining Company was the only oil company to issue maps. Gulf was formed in 1901 by members of the Mellon family of Pittsburgh. Map image courtesy Harold Cramer.

“Gulf executives must have figured that there was no better way to get the public hooked on using filling stations than if they could pull right in and gas up their new car after having just driven it off the lot,” noted a commission historian.

In addition to gas, the Gulf station also offered free air and water — and sold the first commercial road maps in the United States. “The first generally distributed oil company road maps are usually credited to Gulf,” said Harold Cramer in his “Early Gulf Road Maps of Pennsylvania.”

first gas pump Smithsonian museum Bowser pump exhibit

This 1916 Bowser gasoline pump operated by a hand crank and “clock face” dial. Photo from the Smithsonian Collection.

“The early years of oil company maps, circa 1915 to 1925, are dominated by Gulf as few other oil companies issued maps, and until about 1925 Gulf was the only oil company to issue maps annually,” Cramer explained. That would change.

Founded in 1996, the Road Map Collectors Association (RMCA) preserves the history of road maps to educate the public about America’s automobile age, also documented and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution (see America on the Move).

While the Gulf station in Pittsburgh could be considered the first “modern” service station, kerosene and gasoline “filling stations” helped pave the way.

first gas pump collection of pumps in oil museum

Collectors value station memorabilia, including this pump and globe exhibited at the Northwoods Petroleum Museum outside Three Lakes, Wisconsin, established in 2006.

“At the turn of the century, gasoline was sold in open containers at pharmacies, blacksmith shops, hardware stores and other retailers looking to make a few extra dollars of profit,” noted Kurt Ernst in a 2013 article.

“In 1905, a Shell subsidiary opened a filling station in St. Louis, Missouri, but it required attendants to fill a five gallon can behind the store, then haul this to the customer’s vehicle for dispensing…A similar filling station was constructed by Socal gasoline in Seattle, Washington, opening in 1907,” Ernst explained in his article “The Modern Gas Station celebrates its 100th Birthday.”

One-hundred years after the Gulf Refining Company station opened, America’s 152,995 operating gas stations included 123,289 convenience stores, according to Ernst. On average, each location sold about 4,000 gallons of fuel per day, “quite a jump from the 30 gallons sold at the Gulf station in Pittsburgh on December 1, 1913.”

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

Photographs of early service stations remain an important part of preserving U.S. transportation history (also true for architecture, pump technologies, advertising methods, and more). The American Oil & Gas Historical Society’s Dome Gas Station at Takoma Park offers insights revealed in just one 1921 black-and-white photograph of a station in a Washington, D.C., suburb.

The Library of Congress maintains a large collection of service station images, as do other libraries and organizations listed with it in AOGHS photo resources.

_______________________

Recommended Reading: Pump and Circumstance: Glory Days of the Gas Station (1993); Fill’er Up!: The Great American Gas Station (2013); The American Highway: The History and Culture of Roads in the United States (2000). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

_______________________

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information: Article Title: “First Gas Pump and Service Station.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/transportation/first-gas-pump-and-service-stations. Last Updated: November 28, 2022. Original Published Date: March 14, 2013.

.

Wayne’s Self-Measuring Pump

From kerosene to gasoline, an 1892 Wayne Oil Tank & Pump Company dispenser preserves petroleum history.

 

Wayne D. Lease of White Salmon, Washington, owns an 1892 self-measuring pump designed to dispense kerosene. His pump was one of just 50 manufactured by the Wayne Oil Tank & Pump Company during its first year of business in Wayne, Indiana. Lease, who has researched pump’s manufacturing history, owns the rare petroleum technology artifact.

Originally designed for selling kerosene at mercantile stores, the Wayne company self-measuring pump was later adapted for dispensing gasoline instead of kerosene, according to its current owner.

Original 1892 Wayne Oil Tank Company pump.

Original 1892 Wayne Oil Tank Company pump, one of just 50 manufactured to dispense kerosene during the company’s first year of business in Wayne, Indiana.

“My research indicates the Wayne pump was never manufactured to be used for gasoline, but rather kerosene only,” Lease noted in a December 2020 email to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

He explained that many researchers of gasoline service station pumps have overlooked Wayne and other manufacturers’ altered pumps, “best defined as an ‘after strike,’ which allowed the use in the transfer of the more volatile gasoline.”

Self-measuring pump venders made good use of a dispenser that had become less needed because of electric lighting, Lease added.

The original Wayne Oil Tank & Pump Company design was limited to the specific use of kerosene as a lamp fuel, Lease explained. Kerosene was sold in the general stores of rural America, where stores were often found at stage coach stops 15 miles to 25 miles apart.

Kerosene lamp fuel would be joined by a new transportation fuel in the early 1900s, gasoline for autos. “Small cities now become the hub of commerce on a larger scale with the introduction of the combustion engine,” he added. Kerosene would succumb to the Rural Electrification Act (1936) as gasoline became the U.S. consumer’s primary need.

“The Wayne pump, one of fifty made in1892, was then certified for the use of the transfer of Gasoline, and the vender made good use of what had become obsolete,” the amateur pump historian concluded in his 2020 email to AOGHS. He continues to research more information about the pump.

Original 1892 Wayne Oil Tank Company pump, one of just 50 manufactured to dispense kerosene during the company's first year of business in Wayne, Indiana.

Detailed Wayne pump measurement scale for accurate dispensing of kerosene and later, gasoline.

“It is in immaculate condition as you can see by the photographs, Lease noted in his email to AOGHS. He is seeking more information about the pump…and a potential petroleum museum interested in adding the Wayne pump to its collection.  Comments are welcomed below.

Support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society promotional ad.

Learn more early transportation and gasoline pump history in First Gas Pump and Service Station and Coin-Operated Gas Pumps.

Wayne Fueling Systems

History from the former Wayne Oil Tank Company, today still operating as Wayne Fueling Systems:

Wayne has been shaping the retail and fleet fueling industry since we designed our first pump in 1891.  We were known as the Wayne Oil Tank Company back then, and from the very beginning we were developing a reputation for quality.

View of trade show display for Wayne Oil Tank and Pump Company equipment.

Trade show display for Wayne Oil Tank and Pump Company equipment, showing gasoline and oil pumps. Sign for Wayne Oil Tank & Pump Co. in background. Handwritten note on back: “Service stations, 1910. Gasoline pump.” Photo courtesy Detroit Public Library.

In fact, this inaugural product won the distinction “The Best Self Measuring Oil Pump” at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago just two years later. Once the motor vehicle entered the scene, our purpose and mission was solidified – to create a reliable, accurate way for motorists to refuel cars...Learn more at About Wayne Fueling Systems.

_______________________

Recommended Reading: Pump and Circumstance: Glory Days of the Gas Station (1993). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

_______________________

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS annual supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2022 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Oil Riches of Merriman Baptist Church.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/oil-almanac/oil-riches-of-merriman-baptist-church. Last Updated: March 11, 2022. Original Published Date: July 14, 2021. 

 

America on the Move

 

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., has educated millions of visitors about America’s transportation history since opening on November 22, 2003.

The popular museum’s “America on the Move” exhibits in the General Motors Hall of Transportation include the 1903 Winton that was the first car to drive across the country; a 1959 Chicago Transit Authority “L” mass transit car; and a 260-ton locomotive built in 1926; and exhibits about U.S. Route 66, the “People’s Highway,” including an oilfield service truck from Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Route 66 exhibit in Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

An exhibit about the history of Route 66 — commissioned in 1926 and fully paved by the late 1930s — is part of the Transportation Hall at the National Museum of American History. Photo by Bruce Wells.

A $22 million renovation in 2003 provided the Transportation Hall with 26,000 square feet to display more than 340 historic objects. The space features 19 historic settings in chronological order reflecting the nation’s relationship with great and small roadways.

The Smithsonian's exhibit includes the history behind creation of the interstate highway system.

The Smithsonian’s exhibit includes the history behind creation of the interstate highway system. Photo by Bruce Wells.

“America on the Move” features the Smithsonian’s extensive transportation collection using the latest multimedia technology – and a massive locomotive. The exhibition “brings back to life the history of ships, trains, trucks, and automobiles. It also reveals America’s fascination with life on the road.” (more…)

Pin It on Pinterest