The Exxon Valdez incident will always be etched in the collective memory as one of the most horrendous environmental disasters of the last half century. At the very least, the 1989 oil spill into Alaska's Prince William Sound was a vivid example of one risk associated with our dangerous dependence on oil. However, residents of the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn are quick to note that they are literally sitting on an oil spill of greater proportion that has garnered far less attention.In the late 1800s, Greenpoint housed more than 50 refineries, which by 1892 were primarily controlled by Standard Oil, an Exxon Mobil predecessor. Although it remains unclear when the spills started, leaking gasoline was responsible for a sewer explosion in 1950. More recently, in 1978, the area was identified as an environmental hazard after the Coast Guard discovered an oily plume in Newtown Creek.
The spill, which is more accurately an aggregate of thousands of spills, is estimated by New York State to be 17 million gallons. For the sake of comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill was believed to be 11 million gallons. Regardless of which spill was bigger, Exxon Mobil, BP, and other companies that operated in the area are now the targets of numerous lawsuits. Although Exxon Mobil and BP have made efforts to remediate the site and have recovered roughly 9.3 million gallons of oil, environmentalists, residents, and the state are hoping to accelerate and expand the cleanup process. In response to growing concern over possible health risks, a class action suit has been proposed that seeks $58 billion in damages. While these efforts continue to gain momentum, many residents of Greenpoint are left to contend with the oil fumes that emanate from the soil beneath their homes. Unfortunately, Prince William Sound and Newtown Creek are only two of the environmental disasters that the oil giants have left in their wake.