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Photos: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Archive

Oiled beach - protecting salmon stream. Photo taken at LaTouche Island (Prince William Sound). September 1989
State of Alaska photo
Large patch of mousse covered rocks. Photo taken at LaTouche Island (Prince William Sound). September 1989
State of Alaska photo
Aerial of a maxi-barge and spill workers hosing beach, oil sheen trapped in containment boom· LaTouche Island (Prince William Sound). September 1989
State of Alaska photo
Beach cleanup worker in oil splattered raingear watches co-workers use pom-poms to clean beach from gross oil contamination - LaTouche Island (Prince William Sound). July 1989
State of Alaska photo
Joe Bridgman, Information Officer for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, discovers subsurface oil from seemingly clean beach - Meares Point, Perry Island (Prince William Sound). February 2, 1990
State of Alaska photo
Aerial of oil holding tanks and oil tanker at terminal in Valdez. July 1989
State of Alaska photo
Trans-Alaskan pipeline extends off to the horizon. August 1989.
State of Alaska photo
Oil laborer throws chain - Nabors drilling rig 18E, British Petroleum (Prudhoe Bay).
State of Alaska photo
Large pile of bagged oily debris and incinerators - Dayville Incineration Site, Valdez. July 1989
State of Alaska photo
Black smoke billows from burning asphalt - Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay. Sept. 17, 1989
State of Alaska photo
Aerial of an omni-barge surrounded by containment boom and a spill worker hosing a beach - Prince William Sound. July 1989
State of Alaska photo
Setnetters in boat pick fish from water emerged net, scenic mountains in the background - Kenai River (Cook Inlet). July 1989
State of Alaska photo
Valdez based seafood processors picket Exxon's Headquarters protesting a shortage of work due to the Exxon Valdez oil spill - Valdez. July 1989
State of Alaska photo
Spill workers and maxi-barge hose beach after Corexit test- Quayle Beach, Smith Island (Prince William Sound). August 7, 1989
State of Alaska photo
Close aerial of lightering vessel "Florida Bay" with tug boat wait to respond to a leaking oil tanker or to collect oil from skimmers during boom deployment test, Ship Escort and Response Vessel System (SERVS) - Valdez Harbor. Nov. 3, 1989
State of Alaska photo
Steve Cowper

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