On the night of January 1, 1990, approximately 567,000 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil, a distillate home heating oil that is similar to diesel, was discharged into the Arthur Kill from a ruptured underwater pipeline connecting the Exxon Bayway Refinery in Linden, New Jersey to the Exxon Bayonne Terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey. The leak occurred at the mouth of Morses Creek, just south of the Goethals Bridge. Following an inspection, divers reported a five-foot gouge near the bottom of the 12-inch pipeline. Due to the tides, oil quickly spread throughout the Arthur Kill, creating a slick estimated to be about 11-miles long.
Approximately 60,500 feet of containment boom, 400,000 feet of sorbent boom, 37 workboats, and over 400 personnel were deployed for the cleanup. On February 14, substantial deposits of oil were found in the sediments on Prall’s Island, and trenches were dug to collect the oil for removal. By March 15, the cleanup concluded for most areas except Prall’s Island, where further cleanup activities were postponed due to the arrival of wading birds that nest on the island. After the fall migration, Customblen, a nutrient enhancer for bioremediation, was applied to the sediments on the island. Ultimately, the cleanup crews recovered about 141,000 gallons of oil. It is estimated that half of the 567,000 gallons spilled had evaporated.
The oil impacted more than 2,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitats including tidal wetlands, tributaries, and open water. Over 200 acres of salt marshes were oiled on Staten Island, New York and in New Jersey, causing massive losses of smooth cordgrass. Large amounts of fish and invertebrates living along the shorelines were smothered, and the oil directly caused the deaths of 691 birds.
A 1991 settlement with the Exxon Corporation provided $11.5 million for the restoration of injured natural resources. Due to the overlap in areas impacted, the Exxon Bayway and B.T. Nautilus oil spill cases were handled by the same trustee council: the NY/NJ Harbor Oil Spill Restoration Committee. To date, about 111 acres of tidal salt marsh have been restored or enhanced, and over 80 acres have been acquired for preservation.