Riverkeeper > Campaigns & Cases > Stop Polluters > Greenpoint Oil Spill on Newtown Creek

Greenpoint Oil Spill on Newtown Creek

Over the last century, between 17 and 30 million gallons of oil were spilled and leaked from ExxonMobil’s historic refinery and storage facilities into the soil and groundwater in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. These petroleum discharges formed an over 50 acre underground petroleum plume that underlies local businesses and a residential section of Greenpoint. The contamination has also been leaching into Newtown Creek for decades.

In a 1978 helicopter patrol, the US Coast Guard discovered a large plume of oil flowing out of the banks of the creek. Virtually no action was taken until 1990, when the state entered into consent orders with ExxonMobil. Rather than bring the company to justice, the order required only the most rudimentary cleanup, demanded no cleanup benchmark, and failed to order a single penny in penalties. The spill has been oozing under Greenpoint for five decades, destroying the local aquifer, rendering more than 50 acres of land undevelopable, settling under more than 100 homes on three residential blocks, severely contaminating Newtown Creek, and threatening aquatic life harbor-wide.

Riverkeeper has been the driving force in bringing litigation forward, raising public awareness about the oil spill and compelling state officials to address this historic contamination. Riverkeeper discovered the oil spill during a boat patrol of Newtown Creek in 2002, finding oil sheens, floating garbage and abandoned cars littering the Creek. After investigating the source of the oil and the industrial history of the Creek, Riverkeeper filed a federal lawsuit against ExxonMobil in 2004 to hold it responsible for its role in the contamination. Riverkeeper was joined by six Greenpoint residents as co-plaintiffs in its lawsuit. Riverkeeper’s lawsuit was followed in 2005 with a similar suit brought by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and other local elected officials. In 2007, New York Attorney General Cuomo filed a third federal lawsuit alleging similar claims, as well as other claims over which the State has unique enforcement authority. The three lawsuits were all consolidated for case management purposes by the federal court in Brooklyn, and the parties have been actively engaged in efforts to settle the cases for almost three years.

Since its first boat patrol into Newtown Creek over eight years ago, Riverkeeper has established itself as the leading pollution enforcer on Newtown Creek, exemplified by its citizen suits against oil companies, cement manufacturers and other polluters. Riverkeeper also helped found the Newtown Creek Alliance, a coalition of elected officials, local residents, business owners and other non-profit organizations working to improve the Creek and adjoining neighborhoods.

Current News on Newtown Creek




  • Documents Submitted for Newtown Creek Superfund Designation

  • A Slippery Past

  • Effects of the Spill TodaySliding Into the Present

  • History of Riverkeeper's Involvement

  • Congress Gets EPA Action on Newtown Creek Oil Spill

  • Greenpoint Homeowners Sue ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron