Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

A Short Greenpoint Oil Spill Primer

September 27th, 2006 · No Comments


Since the “Community Update” on the Greenpoint Oil Spill and the testing confirming benezene, methane and other fun things under the ground is tonight (Wed. 9/27), we thought this would be a nice day to rehash some facts about the spill so large it makes the Exxon Valdez spill look on the small side. The Greenpoint spill left at least 17 million gallons of “petroleum products” (and some say as many as 30 million gallons) beneath Greenpoint. The spill dates back to the 1950s, though it was only “discovered” in 1978 when the oily sheen was noticed on Newtown Creek, the body of water that separates Brooklyn and Queens. The original tanks that leaked belonged to companies that are now Exxon Mobil, BP and Chevron Texaco. The trouble dates to a time when 23,000 gallons a day of gasoline and other products were refined along the banks of Newtown Creek.

For nearly two decades, nothing was done while the toxic plume–containing carcinogenic benzene, explosive methane and other substances–spread under Greenpoint. Since 1995, Exxon has removed about half the spilled oil, but at the current pace, it will take another two decades to clean up the rest of the spill. The current furor dates to the revelations about the 20-year time frame for the cleanup that was made public earlier this year.

No one even knows the full extent fo the spread of the plume, according to Riverkeeper, which filed a suit against Exxon Mobil in 2004 to force a faster cleanup. It is believed the plume is migrating in the general direction of Long Island City, and oil is still leaking into Newtown Creek. The recent testing that confirmed the presence of benzene and explosive methane was done as a result of the Riverkeep lawsuit.

A half-century after the original spill, Brooklyn’s equivalent of Love Canal has also gained enough traction in the press to finally attract the attention of a multitude of state officials. Excellent background stories on the full extent of the mess and the decades of inaction are available via a Block Magazine article, a nice summary story in the Brooklyn Rail and another good roundup from this spring in the Village Voice. There is a good, well-maintained directory of major news articles about the spill here at greenpointvexxon.com. And, if you’re interested in tons of original documents and PDFs, the Department of Environmental Conservation has a massive “Greenpoint Petroleum Remediation Project” website.

Tonight’s meeting is at 7:00 at the Princess Manor at 92 Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint.

Meantime, here’s our food for thought of the day: How is it that a 17 million gallon oil spill that happened 50 years ago is only half cleaned up and that testing of toxic vapors in people’s homes is only being done today?

Note the containment boom in the photo below, which was taken on Newtown Creek near the original site of the spill.

Oil Spill

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