Lawrence Rawl, 76; Exxon Chief at Time of Alaskan Oil Spill Disaster

From Associated Press

Lawrence G. Rawl, a petroleum engineer who rose to become chairman and chief executive of Exxon Corp. and led the company’s response to criticism after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, has died. He was 76.

Rawl died Sunday in Fort Worth, the company said Monday. No cause of death was given.

“Larry was a strong leader for our company and the petroleum industry,” said Lee R. Raymond, Rawl’s successor and now the chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp.


The major event of Rawl’s tenure was the 1989 grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, which spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Critics said the company was slow to react and missed a chance to contain the spill before it fouled hundreds of miles of shoreline. As the loss of wildlife mounted, the accident turned into a public relations disaster for the company.

William K. Reilly, then head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said later that Rawl “provided a casebook example of how not to communicate to the public when your company messes up.” Others said Rawl came across as too combative in media interviews.

The cleanup lasted through 1992, when the federal government and Alaska declared it complete. Reilly said Exxon did virtually everything the EPA asked. Exxon, which spent more than $3 billion on the cleanup and related costs, said the spill prompted many safety improvements.

Exxon Mobil is still appealing a $5-billion verdict reached by a federal jury in 1994. The case has bounced back and forth between a federal judge, who last year ordered the company to pay nearly $7 billion in punitive damages and interest, and an appeals court.

Rawl was born in 1928 in New Jersey. According to a company biography, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at the end of World War II.

After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1952 with a degree in petroleum engineering, Rawl joined Humble Oil & Refining Co., a predecessor to Exxon, as a drilling engineer in south Texas. Over the next 28 years, he earned a series of promotions and had assignments in Houston, New York and London.

Rawl joined the company’s New York office in 1980 as a senior vice president and director.

In 1985, he was named president; two years later, he was elected chairman and chief executive.

He increased the company’s energy reserves, partly by focusing on expanding production in Africa, and expanded chemical operations. He also moved the company’s headquarters from New York to Irving, Texas.

Rawl retired in 1993.

Information on survivors was not immediately available. The company said private services would be held in Austin, Texas.