The Alaska State Archives' Exxon Valdez Litigation Project has recently added 500 images of the Exxon Valdez oil spill to Alaska's Digital Archives website. Then-Gov. Steve Cowper's official photographer took 2,000 photographs in the early days of the spill. Below, he recalls the chaos of that awful day in 1989.

Other historical resources from the spill are available on the State Archives web page. An index to all of the governor's images and the remaining 1,500 slides are available for use at the State Archives.

The State Archives Oil Spill Project has now reached its halfway point. Next, the project will sift through about 2,600 boxes in Anchorage generated by litigation from 1989-1993, and the more recently decided Oil Spill Reopener case.


The day of the oil spill, I was having a day off at home in Fairbanks. Sam Bishop was going to interview me for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner at 7:30 a.m. When I walked into his office he said, "What about the oil spill?"

I said, "What oil spill?"

When he told me what had happened, I immediately called Juneau to arrange the quickest way to get to Valdez.

Denny Kelso, the head of DEC, and I flew down from Anchorage. It was shocking for everybody who saw the extent of the damage for the first time. We were directly over the spill, and I thought, "Boy, this is the worst mess I've ever seen."

Recommended: Keep reading then-Gov. Cowper's recollection of the Exxon Valdez disaster