The story of the last cataclysmic American oil spill has evolved over time into a straightforward tale of cause and effect: In 1989, a hard-drinking skipper ran his tanker aground in Alaska, and Exxon was unable to prevent crude from spreading along hundreds of miles of pristine shoreline.
But the full story of the Exxon Valdez wreck is far more complex, and it offers striking parallels to today's events in the Gulf of Mexico -- including a central role played by a consortium led by British Petroleum, now known as BP.
A commission that investigated the Alaska spill found that oil companies cut corners to maximize profits. Systems intended to prevent disaster failed, and no backups were in place. Regulators were too close to the oil industry and approved woefully inadequate accident response and cleanup plans.
History is repeating, say officials who investigated the Valdez, because the lessons of two decades ago remain unheeded.
"It's disappointing," said 84-year-old Walt Parker, chairman of the Alaska Oil Spill Commission, which made dozens of recommendations for preventing a recurrence. "It's almost as though we had never written the report."