Man involved in 1989 oil spill speaks

Oil spill in water

May 21, 2010 8:24:35 PM PDT
The chief engineer on the Exxon Valdez on March 24, 1989 --the day it ran aground in Alaska causing one of the most serious environmental disasters in U.S. history-- is talking about the frequent comparisons made between that spill and the current one in the Gulf of Mexico. The Valdez oil spill wasn't the biggest in U.S. history, but it does seem to be the benchmark by which others are measured.

Triangle resident George Glowacki was the chief engineer in the design, construction and operation of the Valdez. He was there when the spill happened 21 years ago and grimaces when quick comparisons are drawn with the spill in the Gulf.

"It's a totally different scenario," Glowacki said. "Exxon Valdez was a quantifiable spill, meaning volume of oil that was spilled."

Right now in the Gulf, oil is still spewing out. The oil has been gushing out for a month and BP says the problem could continue for another month.

"They're not really sure," Glowacki said. "They can't quantify how much is coming out of the well on a daily basis.

Other differences are where the spills happened.

The Valdez was in Prince William Sound, and to some degree, was contained by geography.

The BP spill is 150 miles offshore and that has led to another difference -- Glowacki says in the Gulf, waves, wind and water temperature have mixed the oil into the water and that's what's washing up on shore. In Alaska, it was black sludge that hit land in 1989.

Glowacki says there's also the issue of management. He points out Exxon's top officials were in Alaska for weeks and accessible when the spill happened.

"Exxon acted very forthcoming in having nightly news conferences in the port of Valdez as to what the progress was," Glowacki said. "I have not seen that 20 years later with this spill."

ABC11 Eyewitness News asked Glowacki what comparisons could be drawn or lessons learned from Valdez, and he says that there are no guarantees.

Meanwhile, BP has admitted the situation is much worse than previously thought. The oil giant has agreed to show a continuous live feed of the oil and gas polluting the Gulf.

BP officials say the next step is to try to plug the well with a muddy mixture on Sunday or Monday.

The company says the worst case scenario is the oil leak will continue until early August, when they finish a new well that is currently being drilled.

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