Exxon cleared to expand Newtown Creek cleanup

By Nathan Duke

The company had sought the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit last year following the release of a report by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which found that the oil spill at the creek may be as much as 30 million gallons rather than the original estimate of 17 million gallons. Tarrytown-based environmental advocacy group Riverkeeper had also filed a lawsuit against Exxon on the grounds that the company was discharging untreated water into the creek without proper permits.Exxon spokesman Barry Wood said the oil giant received the permit last week, but that would not drastically change the company's operations at the creek.”We've got the permit which increases recovery,” he said. “We're moving forward with the project and making progress. A lot more needs to be done, but a lot of progress has been made to date. We'll be there until the job is done and done right.”Wood said Exxon has removed an estimated 9.5 million gallons of oil from the creek to date. He said 10 new recovery wells will be added within the next year at the creek, where 11 wells currently recover petroleum.The permit would limit the amount of water and pollutants that can be discharged during Exxon's recovery effort as well as set monitoring and reporting requirements for the oil company. Exxon applied for the state permit at the EPA's request.Basil Seggos, Riverkeeper's chief investigator, said the permit is a step in the right direction.”This is a positive development,” he said. “It brings Exxon back into compliance with federal and state law. And it signifies a government more willing to hold Exxon accountable. At the end of the day, Exxon will comply with the law, but not because it is in their corporate ethos to do so. It wasn't until the state pushed the company that it reapplied for the permit and made upgrades to the system.”The Newtown Creek spill, which was discovered by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter patrol in 1978, is believed to have started anywhere from 50 to 100 years ago along the bank of the waterway, where Standard Oil once operated a massive oil refinery. ExxonMobil, Standard's descendant, entered into two consent orders in 1990 with the state Environmental Conservation Department to clean up the creek.Several other oil companies, including BP and Chevron, are also responsible for assisting in the recovery of oil from the waterway.Previous studies by Riverkeeper and the DEC estimated that 17 million gallons of oil had seeped into the creek, but the EPA's study last year concluded that the spill could be nearly two times that amount.Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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