Valdez (population 3,800) is a small town on the shore of the beautiful Prince William Sound. The city has gone through several reincarnations throughout its history. Originally (like many Alaskan towns) it was a base camp for gold prospectors making their way inland. It later developed into a fishing 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 townsite. A few years later the oil fields of North Alaska were opened for drilling; 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 most residents work either in the oil or in the fishing industry, with a small but growing tourism sector.
The Exxon Valdez disaster
In 1989 the oil 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 heavily damaged for the next 10-15 years. The Sound has since then recovered and most fish populations returned to pre-1989 levels, but in a city split between two industries, the spill is an open wound even 30 years later.