The Largest Oil Spill In US History
June 10, 2007 2:30 PM   Subscribe

talking about my hood, man!
U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
posted by Busithoth at 2:58 PM on June 10, 2007

That's a fascinating article, and fairly free of breathless alarmism.
posted by delmoi at 3:11 PM on June 10, 2007

How sad.

Well on its way to The Great Concavity.
posted by carsonb at 3:58 PM on June 10, 2007

posted by acro at 4:07 PM on June 10, 2007

I live three blocks from the estimate edge of the underground seepage. Fun times!
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 4:41 PM on June 10, 2007

I live in Greenpoint as well. Needless to say, I only drink bottled water.
posted by tiger yang at 4:52 PM on June 10, 2007

This sucks. Greenpoint is an awesome neighborhood.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:52 PM on June 10, 2007

As the senior diplomat stepped away from the negotiations, he gave the Saudi Arabians a hard look and said "We don't need your damned oil. We've found oil in New York City!"
posted by SteveTheRed at 5:00 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

This was fairly common knowledge when I moved to Williamsburg, near the border of Greenpoint, in the mid 90s. It was why I thought the neighborhood would always be marginal.

Now that they want to sell luxury condos to monied hipsters, the issue is finally getting real attention.
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:06 PM on June 10, 2007

We've found oil in New York City!

Black Gold?
posted by jonmc at 5:13 PM on June 10, 2007

On a related note, did Exxon ever pay a dime of the fine?
posted by Kickstart70 at 5:15 PM on June 10, 2007

Needless to say, I only drink bottled water.

Doesn't your tap water come from the Catskills?
posted by beagle at 5:27 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Now that they want to sell luxury condos to monied hipsters, the issue is finally getting real attention."

corporate oligarchy. i'm just sayin'.

Isn't New York City where Pace Picante Sauce comes from?

"NEW YORK CITY!!!?" *gunshot*
posted by ZachsMind at 5:44 PM on June 10, 2007

Isn't New York City where Pace Picante Sauce comes from?

It's part of what gives it that great musky flavour!
posted by AmberV at 5:52 PM on June 10, 2007

As a former Gerritson Beach resident, I am truly saddened. But glad my boat is no longer in those waters. I will continue to confine my skiing to Kauai.
posted by scottymac at 5:55 PM on June 10, 2007


Bioremediation is sloooow. Years slow. Bioremediation also won't remove all of the components that are causing problems.

While land-farming hydrocarbons has its place, this isn't it. When there is immediate risk to human health, as in this site, the best policy is to remove the risk. For this case, that means scooping the pollution out of the ground. Land-farming can be done with the waste off-site.

Bioremediation is an unlikely option anyway. Chlorinated hydrocarbons (perc and trike are mentioned, both are drycleaning fluids and great solvents for cleaning refineries) are next to impossible for bacteria to break down. Vascular plants have no chance at all. To my mind, the best options would be landfilling and/or high temperature closed-loop incineration. Incineration is more expensive, but could be done on site (especially for a site this size). This minimizes the risk of spreading stuff by transport and removes the problem for good. Landfilling just defers the problem for someone else.
posted by bonehead at 6:36 PM on June 10, 2007

Kickstart70 writes "On a related note, did Exxon ever pay a dime of the fine?"

Well in 2006 the fine was halved to a mere 2.5B dollars. I don't have the actualization factors handy, but this ruling came 17 years after the fact, which means they pay a lot less value , not counting the megadiscount.
posted by elpapacito at 6:36 PM on June 10, 2007

Where NYC's Water comes from.
posted by exlotuseater at 6:40 PM on June 10, 2007

I've got an idea for how to speed it up, bonehead * email in profile, mefi patent attorney who works for at a discount.
posted by acro at 6:49 PM on June 10, 2007

This is probably the largest land spill in US history. The quantity estimates run between 55 to 115,000 tonnes. For reference, the largest spill in US waters was the Hawaiian Patriot (1977) at 95,000 tonnes. The Exxon Valdez estimate was 37,000 tonnes (#46).

The biggest ever spill was the Atlantic Empress at 287,000 tonnes in 1979. This spill comes in somewhere between 15 and 20 all time biggest.
posted by bonehead at 6:49 PM on June 10, 2007

The Valdez award is still before the courts. Some small partial payment was made and compulsory license fees are now paid to Regional Citizens' Advisory Councils (one for Prince William Sound and one in Cook Inlet). The major award has not been paid yet. It looks likely to go to the US supreme court.
posted by bonehead at 6:55 PM on June 10, 2007

acro, the spill community is weary of new ideas for bioremediation. If you've truly got something, there are plenty of small sites where an idea could be tested. Do so and publish. Results are the only thing that will attract attention. Patent if you wish, but you must publish if you want others to pay attention.
posted by bonehead at 6:58 PM on June 10, 2007

bonehead: I'd guess another 3-5 years ? And the damages, would they pay interests / devalutaion on it ?

bonehead writes "This is probably the largest land spill in US history."

To me that doesn't qualify as spill : a spill is a single event of leaking, this is a series of spills and most likely not entirely accidental. I don't have an estimate of the volumes that were worked at the location, probably millions tonnes but 55-155 , is it negligence , uncontainable loss or whatelse ?
posted by elpapacito at 7:01 PM on June 10, 2007

True enough, this isn't a spill, but a contaminated site. I'm a spills guy, so I tend to think in those terms.

It's also from a time when, as Exxon says, releases were entirely unregulated. I think it would be very hard to argue direct liability for contaminated effluents that old. The EPA and the State of NY can certainly enforce clean-up though, and issue fines for ongoing leakage off site. The coast guard will only activate if more gets out on the water and if Exxon doesn't take action to clean it up.
posted by bonehead at 7:07 PM on June 10, 2007

Their (mobil) arguments are bullcrap. Except that other companies may have contributed some of that. Removing of that part should be just counted as part of fine. First of all, if I'm living in 1880, and I look at a tank of oil and I think, what if I spill 10 tons of this in the ground or in the ocean, is that going to be ok? I mean, just try dunking in the tank for a few seconds. There's no way you'll think it's healthy. If I understood right these companies were later united to be Mobil. The money they made by not being careful back then went into their bottomline and continued to appreciate over time. It would be ineteresting to know, what percent of their revenue they spend on cleaning this up? I live in Brooklyn and I haven't heard of this. I'm very far from that area, though. But, I bet there's many people who work in construction and who do not know this (I could be wrong). Folks living in basements in the area should all be informed by Mobil and get paid to move upstairs or to another area...

The rule that laws do not apply retroactively was not meant for cases like this. When a case is large enough and there's obvious malice involved, they have to pay to discourage companies from doing harm simply because it's not yet outlawed.
posted by rainy at 7:14 PM on June 10, 2007

bonehead: But the Empress wasn't in the US, right? They're talking about biggest spills in the US. And, I guess, coastal waters where much of the spill ends up in US waters.
posted by rainy at 7:18 PM on June 10, 2007

Many oil spills are never reported and we don't hear about are huge. Russia, China, Nigeria, Iraq, Venezuela have some big ones.
posted by stbalbach at 7:18 PM on June 10, 2007

The Atlantic Empress went down in the Barbados. As I wrote above, the biggest US marine spill to date was the Hawaiian Patriot near Hawaii.

Shoot, I just realized---the Katrina spills in Louisiana in 2005 were waaaaay bigger than this. At least 10x bigger. I don't have the numbers at hand though. I'll look them up first thing tomorrow.

The biggest land spill to date was the first Iraq war (I'm embarrassed for not remembering this earlier). Again, I'll have to dig out the paper at work tomorrow to find the number.

The largest Siberian spill was on the same order of magnitude as this spill. The largest, I think was near Komi in the mid-90's, and about 100,000 tonnes. Maybe a bit bigger than this one. It was a pipeline split into tundra. Very different from this case.
posted by bonehead at 7:35 PM on June 10, 2007

Great article, thanks.
posted by amyms at 8:23 PM on June 10, 2007

NYC actually still has some wells, way out in Queens. But yeah, avoiding NYC tap water is pretty pointless. It's delicious! When I was in Pennsylvania for a while last summer, I literally did a spit-take after I decided to pour myself a big glass of PA tap water.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:50 PM on June 10, 2007

related links:
a 'documentary' about the Roebling oil fields (a development that struck oil while digging their foundation. It's in Williamsburg, maybe two miles from the Greenpoint plume).

Gowanus Lounge is a blog mostly about the Gowanus (another toxic sump/ development site) and they touch on this whole thing pretty nicely.

thanks for posting this.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:44 AM on June 11, 2007

posted by bardic at 1:08 AM on June 11, 2007

"The spill community"? Is that a group like "the American People". Tell me what they think again?
posted by spock at 5:02 AM on June 11, 2007

toxic goop saturating the sandy soil is at least partly capped by a semi-permeable clay layer, the natural legacy of Brooklyn’s 10,000-year-old geology

Wow. It really is the New World!
posted by dash_slot- at 9:45 AM on June 11, 2007

I've lived in Williamsburg for most of the last 15 years.

I live in Greenpoint as well. Needless to say, I only drink bottled water.

That's pretty silly. The water goes through metal pipes -- there isn't going to be any leachage whatsoever from the ground into the drinking water. The city is very proactive on testing the water pretty well everywhere. Most bottled water is just filled from some tap in some municipality elsewhere and the quality of the water you get is not even as good as New York's water.

Bottled water is also extremely destructive to the environment -- forget about the mostly-non-recyclable bottles, it's the cost of trucking or even shipping tons and tons of water from one place to the other.

Much more important is the air. Avoid living in a basement. Make sure your basement is as waterproof as possible. Have good ventilation in your house where the intake is as high above the ground as possible.

But don't make an extra contribution to the destruction of the planet because of paranoia about New York's drinking water!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:12 AM on June 11, 2007

I have been taking a lot of photos along Newtown Creek, where the spill is located, if anyone's interested. It's a total post-apocalyptic wasteland in some areas; in others there are traces of natural beauty clinging to the surface. I've actually wound up doing a lot of writing about it as well, it really bothers and moves me.
posted by hermitosis at 10:30 AM on June 11, 2007

Sorry: link.
posted by hermitosis at 10:31 AM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

It would be ineteresting to know, what percent of their revenue they spend on cleaning this up?

XOM earnings have been skyrocketing, setting records lately. For the last two quarters they made $36B and $39B respectively. That seems to me to be a lot of money.

If they spent a recognizable percentage of this revenue on anything, they could summarily own it, whatever it was. $2.5 billion dollars? That's what they make in 2 business days.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:48 PM on June 11, 2007

ikkyu2: I guess you were joking, but I sometimes do silly math mistakes, so.. a quarter is 3 months. 2.5*90 = over 200, not 40B. Still, around 470M in a day isn't pathetic. I could really use that kind of income. But, as always, nobody will volunteer, just wait and see.. same old story.
posted by rainy at 9:17 PM on June 11, 2007

My businesses take Saturday and Sunday off, rainy.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:43 AM on June 12, 2007

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