New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will sue Exxon Mobil Corp., the world’s largest oil company, and four other firms over a New York City oil spill first discovered in 1978.
Cuomo said in a statement today he will sue Exxon Mobil, BP Plc, Chevron Corp., Keyspan Corp. and Phelps Dodge Corp. for delaying cleanup of Newtown Creek, a 3.5-mile-long waterway that separates the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. The creek has been contaminated by several oil spills and illegal discharges, including a 17 million-gallon spill detected in 1978.
The suit would join three others related to the spill that seek clean up of the creek and at least $58 billion in damages. The oil spill is in an area that housed refineries and storage tanks once owned by Standard Oil, an Exxon Mobil predecessor. The spill now extends to 55 acres, according to the state. The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska was 11 million gallons.
“This is one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation, larger than the Exxon Valdez and slower in the cleanup,” Cuomo said in the statement. “Exxon Mobil has proven itself far less than a model corporate citizen, placing its greed for windfall profits over public safety and the well-being of the environment.”
Cuomo’s intent-to-sue-notices allege violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act, according to the statement.
Exxon Mobil and other companies involved in the cleanup have vacuumed up 9.3 million gallons of petroleum products since the project began in 1979, said Prem Nair, a spokeswoman for Exxon’s refining business.
“Given the geology and the old homes that are there, it’s not that easily accessible without impacting existing homes and businesses,” Nair said today in a telephone interview. “We are very committed to remediating this site.”
Spokesmen for BP and Phelps Dodge could not be reached immediately for comment.
Exxon Mobil shares rose 22 cents to $75.01 at 1:21 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.
Texaco Inc., which was acquired by Chevron, said it is working with the Attorney General’s office regarding the lawsuit.
“Texaco will be more than happy to meet with the State Attorney General to discuss its progress at the site and any additional measures the state recommends in Texaco’s ongoing cleanup efforts,” Chevron spokesman Alex Yelland said in a statement. The company has met every condition established for the clean up and over the last 18 months has reduced the contamination by more than 90 percent, he said.
In 1990, Exxon Mobil signed a consent decree with New York that established a legally binding plan for the cleanup. In June, the state decided to initiate legal action against the company to ensure it fulfilled its obligation.
Exxon Mobil and other companies were first sued in 2004 by the environmental group Riverkeeper, which is seeking the clean up of Newtown Creek and for the exact size of the spill to be determined. Two other cases representing residents and homeowners in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn are seeking damages for property value losses and potential health costs related to the spill.
One suit representing over 400 Greenpoint residents has been filed by the Los Angeles firm Giradi & Keese, which helped win a drinking-water contamination suit made famous in the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich.” The other suit, also representing residents, was filed by New York firm Napoli Bern Ripka LLP and seeks $58 billion in damages from Exxon Mobil, BP and other companies.