New York sues Exxon over oil spill

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says 17 million gallons of oil spilled in Brooklyn, which is 7 million more gallons than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Oil behemoth Exxon Mobil Corp. is the target of a lawsuit filed by the New York attorney general's office that claims the company did not clean up 17 million gallons of spilled oil in Brooklyn over the past century, the New York attorney general's office announced Tuesday.

"Exxon Mobil - the largest, most profitable oil corporation in the world - has continually refused to accept responsibility for what is one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation's history," New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a written statement.

"This company cannot ignore the harm its oil spill has caused to the environment and residents of Greenpoint, Brooklyn," the statement reads.

Exxon Mobil (down $0.61 to $89.09, Charts, Fortune 500) calls allegations made by Cuomo's office and Greenpoint residents "unfounded" and intends to defend against the suit.

The suit seeks to stop oil currently spilling into Newtown Creek as well as restoration to the waterway, which divides Brooklyn and Queens; a scientific investigation into the extent of the contamination in the neighborhood; heightened efforts to clean up and recover underground oil and contaminated groundwater and soil; and "substantial" financial penalties and damages to the environment, according to Cuomo's office.

The suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. district court for the eastern district of New York.

Oil and other petroleum products have been refined and held at locations in the Greenpoint area since the 1850s by various companies, including those at the center of the attorney general's charges.

The state prosecutor's office charges that repeated oil and chemical spills by Exxon Mobil oil refineries and storage facilities created an oil plume underneath the Greenpoint area.

"It is Exxon Mobil's oil that remains under the homes and businesses. And it is Exxon Mobil that has dragged its feet and done as little as possible to address the dangers that it created," Cuomo said when his office revealed intention to sue Exxon Mobil in February.

The Coast Guard discovered oil leaking into Newtown Creek in 1978 and a study commissioned by the Coast Guard a year later found the spill to be approximately 17 million gallons in size, which is 7 million gallons more than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989.

Exxon Mobil spokesman Barry Wood told CNN "Exxon Mobil and other companies have recovered 9.3 million gallons of petroleum products to date" from the Greenpoint area since the Coast Guard's discovery.

"Exxon Mobil is committed to remediation of the site and we have been aggressive in our efforts and have made significant progress," Wood said.

A number of New York lawmakers expressed support for Cuomo's announcement, including Sen. Charles Schumer and Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

"It is imperative that Exxon Mobil and the other companies responsible for this pollution be held fully accountable," Spitzer said.

In 2004, Greenpoint residents filed a federal lawsuit against Exxon Mobil alleging oil is currently seeping into Newtown Creek, and the spill is creating a danger to health and the environment .

Riverkeeper, a non-profit environmental law firm dedicated to protecting the Hudson River, filed a similar lawsuit against Exxon Mobil in 2004 on behalf of Greenpoint residents.

That suit, which is pending, seeks penalties payable to the federal government that could amount to $32,000 each day the companies did not clean up the spill, going back five years - as much as the statute of limitations permits, according to Riverkeeper spokesman Basil Seggos. Top of page