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Valdez is a small city on the shore of a beautiful bay called Prince William Sound, and it has gone through several reincarnations throughout its history. Originally (like many Alaskan towns) it was a station for gold prospectors making their way inland. It later developed into a fishermen town, until a big part of it was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake (9.2 on the Richter scale).

What’s left of the town was transferred to another, slightly more geologically stable, site, a few miles south of the original town. A few years later the oil fields of North Alaska were opened for drilling, and a port was needed from which to transport the oil to the US.

The Exxon Valdez disaster

Valdez Port is the northernmost port in Alaska that doesn’t freeze in winter, and the city was chosen as the southern terminal of the pipeline that leads the oil from drilling sites in the north. Today many of the residents work for the oil companies, and a large part of the local economy relies on this industry.

In 1989 this industry came into the international spotlight when the captain of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez (who was rumored to be a little drunk at the time) ran the tanker aground not far from Valdez itself, split the tanker in two and caused one of the most disastrous environmental disasters ever. The Sound was severely polluted and the animal and fish populations were damaged for 10-15 years.

The Sound has managed to recover and fish quantities have risen, while reports say that oil reservoirs are dwindling and that the entire operation may shut down in a few years, which will of course have a dramatic effect on Valdez’s future.

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