Alaska Oil Spill Response and Cultural Resources

The 1989 EXXON VALDEZ oil spill and response activities that followed necessitated the development of emergency and long-term measures to protect cultural resources along Alaska's affected coastline. The Alaska State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) played a key role in developing and monitoring these efforts, along with other government and industry cultural resource specialists.

In many ways, the response to cultural resources and quick development of an infrastructure to address the challenges were unprecedented. There were lessons learned as protocols, guidelines, and organizational structure evolved over the course of several field seasons. One of the important accomplishments in the aftermath of the EXXON VALDEZ oil spill was the development of a "National Programmatic Agreement on Protection of Historic Properties During Emergency Response Under the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan" and the complimentary "Alaska Implementation Guidelines for Federal On-Scene Coordinators for the Programmatic Agreement On Protection Of Historic Properties During Emergency Response Under The National Oil And Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan."

Chris Wooley (Chumis Cultural Resource Services), who has played a key role as an industry contractor for the EXXON VALDEZ spill response and for subsequent spill responses and spill drills, offers this advice for cultural resource professionals responding to a major multi-state oil release:

"[Response] … will likely require the organization of a joint Cultural Technical Advisory Group from a number of SHPOs across the spill area. The first thing that typically is done is implement a cleanup-wide cultural resource policy… (customized to the event) that shows the unified command supports the historic properties issues… If there are cultural resource issues (sites in the spill area), get archaeologists on the SCAT (shoreline assessment) teams to document site condition prior to response if at all possible. Keeping site confidentiality is a challenge, so using shoreline segment numbers – not site names or locations when dealing with the documentation – help protect locations. Get monitors into the cleanup. As you know, this takes coordination with all the Unified Command elements, and most importantly, good communications with the Operations element. The folks involved in laying boom, collecting oil, doing cleanup need to understand we're not some pinhead "ologists" doing research and standing in the way of cleanup. Rather we're there to help them work around these sensitive areas – just like a nesting site or spawning area of biological concern. That's a message that needs to be understood early in the response."

The Alaska Office of History and Archaeology, working with other Alaska agencies and contractors, has compiled digital documents of procedures instituted and lessons learned during the Exxon Valdez spill response (see below).

Annotated Guide to Posted Oil Spill Documents

1. National Programmatic Agreement on Protection of Historic Properties During Emergency Response Under the National Oil and Hazardous Pollution Contingency Plan (1997). This is the national PMOA that provides guidance for cultural resources protection during oil spills.
pdf icon National PA (140KB)

2. Alaska Implementation Guidelines For Federal On-Scene Coordinators For The Programmatic Agreement On Protection Of Historic Properties During Emergency Response Under The National Oil And Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan. This document provides the current guidance for the protection of cultural resources duringAlaska oil spills; the appendices are also useful.
pdf icon AK Implementation Guidelines (184KB)

3. Bittner, Judith, Cultural Resources and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: An Overview, In Proceedings of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Symposium. American Fisheries Society , Bethesda, Maryland, 1996, pp. 814-818. A brief but accurate summary of the State/Federal response and damage assessment of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill by the State Historic Preservation Officer. (Bittner-1996.pdf)
pdf icon Bittner-1996 (584KB)

4. Letter from the Alaska SHPO to Exxon Inc. stating which staff members of the Office of History and Archaeology had authority to make cultural resource decisions and sign shoreline evaluations on behalf of the State of Alaska. This delegation dispersed decision-making to the lowest level of professional administration and speeded up the Section 106 compliance process. A similar delegation of authority was practiced by the Federal responders.
pdf icon Exxon Oil Spill-Approved List of SHPO Cultural Resource Professionals (45KB)

5. This chart illustrates the decision tree for making Section 106 decisions about particular shoreline segments scheduled for treatment. The shoreline segment was the geographical unit employed for decisions.
pdf icon Exxon Oil Spill-Cultural Resources Internal Decision Tree (53KB)

6. This flow chart illustrates the process of evaluating the potential of a particular shoreline segment to need additional survey or require the identification of a cultural resources protection constraint (monitoring, etc.).
pdf icon Exxon Oil Spill-Cultural Resources Program Shoreline Survey Flow Chart (71KB)

7. Form used when archeological sites were thought to be a factor in shoreline assessments.
pdf icon Exxon Oil Spill-Cultural Resources Shoreline Segment Evaluation Packet (223KB)

8. These forms were used by archeologists who were assessing the shoreline segments for cultural resources that could be harmed by the planned clean-up operations.
pdf icon Exxon Oil Spill-Cultural Resources Archeological Monitoring and Recording Forms (129KB)

9. This shows the decision flowchart moving through the State/Federal cultural advisory group (CTAG) to the SHPO and then to Exxon for oil clean-up.
pdf icon Exxon Oil Spill-Cultural Resources Technical Advisory Group Decision Flow chart (29KB)

10. This consists of two documents. One asks for an answer on the effects of oiling and chemical remediation on archeological remains. The second, from a scientist, replies to the questions (see Dekin (1993) and Reger et. al.(1992) for more information.
pdf icon Exxon Oil Spill-Effects of Oiling and Bioremediation of Cultural Resources (300KB)

11. Instructions to State employees during the spill on the collection of evidence for the litigation that was going to be brought against Exxon. The Feds had a similar effort and much of the damage assessment phase of the cultural resource studies were centered on finding evidence of damage and linking it to the actions or inaction of Exxon. This kind of documentation is required for a legal case and needs to be solid.
pdf icon Exxon Oil Spill: Litigation Related Documentation (173KB)

12. This document shows a sampling of how shoreline segments were classified as to cultural resources constraints. The numbered segments are on the left. Note the constraints: monitoring, avoid uplands, etc. "Standard" means there are no cultural resource constraints.
pdf icon Exxon Oil Spill: Shoreline Cleanup Segment Cultural Resources Constraints (436KB)

13. Mobley, Charles M. et. al., The 1989 Exxon Cultural Resource Program. Exxon Company and Exxon Shipping Company, Anchorage, 1990. This is the first professional archeological report by the Exxon archeological team. It is highly professional and explains the assessment process and their findings.
pdf icon 1989 Exxon CR Report

14. Haggarty, James C. et. al., The 1990 Exxon Cultural Resource Program, Exxon Company and Exxon Shipping Company, Anchorage, 1991. This is the second professional report by the Exxon archeological team. This has a very indepth description of the cultural resources decision-making process during the spill and explains the roles and responsibilities of the various players in the process. It also exemplifies the level of professional reporting that should be expected of the cultural resources team of the company that is responsible for the spill.
pdf icon 1990 Exxon CR Report

15. Memorandum of Understanding Between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Alaska Operations Office, and the U.S. Coast Guard, Seventeenth Coast Guard District Concerning FOSC Response Boundaries for Oil Discharges and Hazardous Substance Releases. This is the PMOA that covers cultural resources and oil spill response in Alaska. The detailed guidelines for its implementation can be found in the file named "AK_IPG_guidelines_08" above.
pdf icon Ke_eepa_17thmoa (381MB)

16. Reger, Douglas and Debra Corbett, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Restoration Project: Final Report: Archeological Site Stewardshiip in the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Area, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Office History and Archaeology, Anchorage, 1999. This report is on one of the restoration efforts that followed the Exxon Valdez spill. It centers on the use of local archeological stewards to monitor sites for looting.
pdf icon Reger-Corbett

17. Reger, Douglas et. al., Effects of Crude Oil Contamination on Some Archaeological Sites in the Gulf of Alaska, 1991 Investigations, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Office History and Archaeology, Anchorage, 1992. This report examines the question of the possible contamination of radiocarbon samples at 10 different oiled sites. As with Dekin's later study of 1993 no recognizable skewing of the dates were observed.
pdf icon Reger_et_al_1992

18. Review of Sorbents and Solidifiers: Review of NRT-RRT Factsheet - Birkedal, Huebner, and Linda Stromquist, "Guidance" on the Application of Oil Sorbents and Solidifiers" from the Perspective of Archeology and other Cultural Resource Types, Manuscript on file at the Alaska Region Office, National Park Service. Review of possible utility and effect of sorbents and solidifiers on cultural resources including museum objects. This guidance was in response to a new factsheet put out by the National Response Team.
pdf icon Sorbents and Solidifiers (12KB)

19. Memorandum of Agreement: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Cleanup in Prince William Sound, the Gulf of Alaska and Beyond (.pdf)
pdf icon Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Cleanup moa1990 (374KB)

20. Alaska Regional Response Team: Oil and Hazardous Substance Contingency Planning and Response; Cultural Resources Committee Charter. Approved by the Alaska RRT on October 17, 2012.

pdf icon Alaska RRT: Cultural Resources Committee Charter

21. A sample Cultural Resource Policy.

pdf icon Alaska Spill Cultural Resources Policy SAMPLE

22. 2019 Alaska Historic Properties Specialist Workshop Application.

pdf icon 2019 Alaska Historic Properties Specialist Workshop Application