Above the Spill: Photographs of Greenpoint, Brooklyn
The included photographs are a selection from Above the Spill: Photographs of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
During a routine flight on September 2, 1978, the US Coast Guard discovered an unusual amount of oil settled on the surface of Brooklyn, New York's, Newtown Creek. The Coast Guard initially considered the oil spillage an isolated incident, probably originating from a nearby storm sewer on Meeker Avenue. But further investigation showed that the spillage was neither isolated nor recent. At the time, the US Coast Guard estimated that approximately 17 million gallons of oil had diffused into a 55 acre area in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, since the 1940s. A report issued by the Coast Guard in 1979 linked the massive spill primarily to Exxon Mobil and Chevron Texaco, among other oil companies in Greenpoint like BP Amoco. New studies question the accuracy of this previous 17 million gallon estimation. A report published in September 2007 by the Environmental Protection Agency strongly suggests that as much as 30 million gallons of oil lay under Greenpoint and that toxic and carcinogenic chemical vapors from the enormous spill continue to leak into neighborhood homes.
The definitive origins of the Greenpoint oil spill still rouse debate. Most sources maintain that during the 1940s, oil vapors and oil product from underground oil tanks leaked into sewer pipes under North Henry Street in Greenpoint, which caused an explosion in 1950 that accelerated the greater oil spill. It was not until the Coast Guard noticed oil in the 3.5 mile long Newtown Creek that the spill became public knowledge. By this time, at least 17 million gallons of crude oil had spread over 52 acres of land in Northern Brooklyn. The 1979 report attributed 13 million gallons of the spill to the Exxon Mobil Oil Corporation, with the rest of the spillage attributed to Chevron Texaco and the Amoco Oil Company.
In 1981, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Department of Transportation, the New York City Fire Department, the American Petroleum Institute, Mobil, and Amoco formed the Meeker Avenue Task Force, designed to recover oil from the Greenpoint spill. The Task Force was neither forceful nor successful in completing its stated task. Operating just one recovery well, the "group rarely, if ever, met," while oil continued to freely flow into Newtown Creek until policy changes occurred in 1990. Even then, when the D.E.C. and Exxon Mobil signed consent orders in 1990, Exxon Mobil did little to reverse its previous procedures. The orders essentially functioned as suggestions, neither stipulating how much oil Exxon Mobil must clean up, nor requiring the company to cleanup contaminated soil in affected offsite neighborhoods. Perhaps most startling, the orders did not even penalize Exxon Mobil with monetary reparations to the communities in Greenpoint that it harmed.
Although remediation efforts established by those consent orders are still in place, oil companies—Exxon Mobil and BP Amoco, by a separate set of consent orders signed on November 14, 2000—have only recovered a minute percentage of the Greenpoint oil spill. In 1997, a New York City Council meeting was organized to assess Exxon Mobil's cleanup progress. The oil giant, during the meeting, said it had recovered just 342,782 gallons of oil over a period of one year. Exxon Mobil went on to state that it had no prior knowledge of Greenpoint's sewer explosion in 1950 from which it ultimately lost more than 13 million gallons of oil. The company claimed that the actual volume of the spill was just 8 million gallons—directly refuting the findings of the US Coast Guard's 1979 report. Exxon Mobil currently operates six recovery wells in Greenpoint with the aid of Roux Associates, and BP Amoco operates four wells. As of 2003, Exxon Mobil has admittedly removed fewer than four million gallons of oil from Greenpoint—oil that it, in turn, ships to New Jersey for reprocessing and eventual sale.