Cuomo Sues Exxonmobil Over Catastrophic Greenpoint Oil Spill
NEW YORK, NY (July 17, 2007) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today filed suit against the ExxonMobil Corporation (NYSE: XOM) and ExxonMobil Refining and Supply Company to force the cleanup of a 17-million-gallon oil spill in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and to restore Newtown Creek, the contaminated waterway separating Queens from Brooklyn.
“ExxonMobil – the largest, most profitable oil corporation in the world – has continually refused to accept responsibility for what is one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation’s history,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “This company cannot ignore the harm its oil spill has caused to the environment and residents of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. With today’s action, we will hold ExxonMobil accountable for the damage it has created. This suit sends the message that even the largest corporations in the world cannot escape the consequences of their misdeeds.”
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis said, “This landmark action is a step forward not only to demand accountability from polluters but also to protect the health and well-being of Brooklyn residents. The Greenpoint contamination is one of the worst urban pollution problems in the nation and at this point requires aggressive enforcement action.”
Newtown Creek is a 3.5-mile-long waterway that separates Queens and Brooklyn and flows into the East River. Spills from ExxonMobil’s refinery and storage operations seeped into the ground creating a plume of oil floating on top of the groundwater. Some of the oil dissolved into the groundwater, contaminating both the groundwater and the surrounding soil. It is estimated that at one time at least 17 million gallons of oil were present underneath more than 100 acres of Greenpoint, Brooklyn and the remainder is now present underneath approximately 55 acres. As a comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons in Alaska in 1989. In 1978, oil from ExxonMobil’s Greenpoint spill was discovered seeping into Newtown Creek. In the almost thirty years since that discovery, Exxon has barely recovered half of the oil, has made no progress in identifying the extent of the dissolved groundwater plume or treating the contaminated soil, and has not addressed the contamination in Newtown Creek.
The suit seeks the termination of oil spills into the creek; scientific testing and investigations to determine the full scope of the environmental contamination in the area; increased recovery of underground oil; cleanup of contaminated groundwater and soil; restoration of Newtown Creek; damages for the injuries to the affected natural resources; and substantial financial penalties.
On February 8, 2007, the Attorney General’s office filed a Notice of Intent to Sue ExxonMobil for violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Subsequently, ExxonMobil unilaterally shut off its oil discharge pumping system, effectively terminating ongoing efforts to treat and remove oil from the site of the spill. At the direction of the State, ExxonMobil applied for a new State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit. The application is being reviewed by the DEC. In the interim, the DEC provided temporary authorization that included stricter discharge limitations, a required evaluation of interim technical measures to further limit contaminant discharges, and increased reporting requirements. ExxonMobil resumed pumping on June 28, 2007.
New York State is suing ExxonMobil under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the federal Clean Water Act, the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as Superfund), the federal Oil Pollution Act, the State’s Navigation Law, and the State’s Environmental Conservation Law. The State is also asserting claims of public nuisance and common law indemnification and restitution in the litigation.
ExxonMobil Refining and Supply Company is a subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corporation that operates the company’s facilities. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Federal District Judge Carol B. Amon has been assigned to hear the case.
The case is being handled by Katherine Kennedy, Special Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection, Gordon J. Johnson, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Environmental Protection Bureau, and with the assistance of Environmental Scientist Jodi Feld.