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Oil spill report examines Exxon legacy in New York


State insists that it aggressively pursues clean-up, sanctions

The Albany "slow walk" is a time-honored tradition, where an issue can linger unresolved for years. A report released Thursday showed how that could apply to petroleum giant Exxon Mobil, which has been responsible for 3,500 oil spills — from a gallon of gas to thousands of gallons of crude oil — over the past several decades.

Ranging across 58 of the state's 62 counties, the array of spills have yet to be cleaned up to state standards, according to state Department of Environmental Conservation records released Thursday by the state Public Interest Research Group and Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting.

"The state might be trying, but this shows endless negotiations with Exxon that just drag on and on," said Walter Hang, director of Toxics Targeting. His firm reviewed DEC reports of spills at gas stations, oil storage farms and pipelines owned by Exxon or its corporate ancestors.

Spills included several at a petroleum tank farm at the Port of Albany that's now owned by Global Partners, a Massachusetts company that receives crude oil trains from the Bakken fields of North Dakota. For example, a 28,000-gallon kerosene spill reported in 2011 at a former Mobil facility in the Port of Albany has never been cleaned up to state standards.

Most spills were concentrated in metropolitan New York and Long Island, with other clusters in the Capital Region, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo.

While not disputing any of the report's specific findings, DEC spokesman Sean Mahar called it "an irresponsible act by a few headline-grabbers to shamefully feed New Yorkers with misinformation."

He said while the records indicate the spills were not cleaned to state standards, such spills are not migrating and are contained. He added, "DEC rapidly responds to and cleans up thousands of contaminated sites ... while aggressively pursuing and holding those accountable for the contamination."

Several spills in the report apparently came from an oil pipeline built in 1881 by Standard Oil — an Exxon predecessor owned by John D. Rockefeller — to run oil from Olean, Cattaraugus County, through the Southern Tier and ultimately to a refinery in Bayonne, N.J.

While the 315-mile pipeline closed in 1925, a spill from it was found in 2013 in the small Delaware County village of Hancock, where oil is pooled underground beneath a former factory that once made the Louisville Slugger baseball bats.

Oil was found about eight feet underground near what had been a pumping station for the pipeline.

NYPIRG Legislative Director Blair Horner said the report showed the historic legacy of petroleum spills in the state, and underscored the need for faster enforcement against polluters as well as increased state funding to clean up spills where the polluter cannot be found or refused to do the work.

Hang said the historic Exxon spills likely would take years and "billions of dollars" to clean up completely. Currently, there are about 350,000 petroleum spills recorded by the DEC, and the list is growing by about 12,000 spills a year.

State rules require all such spills, regardless of size, to be reported to DEC within two hours.