Post-Sandy Oil Spill at Motiva Enterprises Oil Teminal, New Jersey

Crews are still working to clean up a major oil spill from the Motiva Enterprises Sewaren Terminal along the Arthur Kill River in New Jersey. An estimated 277,000 gallons of diesel fuel were spilled from storage tanks damaged by Hurricane Sandy at this facility co-owned by Shell. Some of this oil escaped into a tributary to the Arthur Kill River that separates New Jersey from Staten Island.

NOAA aerial survey photography taken after the spill gives us a very useful tool for analyzing storm damage, by comparing with pre-spill high-resolution imagery in Google Earth.  We’ve shown some of the severe structural damage and beach erosion revealed by these photos.  Now we’ll take a look at oil pollution:  NOAA air photos shot on November 2 and November 3 show many oil slicks on the Arthur Kill, near marinas and industrial facilities. Some of the slicks are probably from the Motiva spill. We were able to identify two storage tanks on the aerial imagery that were moved off their foundations and partially crumpled. These may be the source of the spill.

As we’ve seen with previous severe storms like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike, coastal oil-handling facilities are vulnerable to flooding and storm surge. With scientists forecasting more frequent severe storms fueled by warming ocean waters — and politicians in both parties pushing for expanded offshore drilling and the construction of coastal oil-handling infrastructure — we can expect to be hit more frequently with spills like this.  Who should pay the inevitable costs associated with cleanup?

Street map of the area around Motiva’s Sewaren oil terminal on the Arthur Kill River separating New Jersey and Staten Island, New York.


Google Earth imagery of the map area above from 2010, revealing numerous industrial sites. Oil, natural gas, and chemical storage tanks are round, white dots.


BEFORE: Detail from Google Earth imagery of the area in 2010, showing storage tanks that may be part of the Motiva facility, along a tributary to the Arthur Kill River.


AFTER: NOAA aerial imagery of the same area taken on November 3, 2012. Four storage tanks were reportedly damaged. Can you spot two tanks that have obviously moved off their foundations?
AFTER: NOAA aerial imagery showing oil slick at mouth of tributary to the Arthur Kill. Oil-containment booms (thin orange lines) span the tributary, but oil is apparently escaping into the Arthur Kill. The “rainbow” appearance is typical of thin oil slicks.


AFTER: Another oil slick spanning the Arthur Kill, just south of the tributary mouth. Source is unknown.


AFTER:  Numerous slicks emanating from what appears to be an old industrial / brownfields site along the Arthur Kill, south of the images shown above.
2 replies
  1. John Amos says:

    John – we're not sure exactly what the boundaries of the Sewaren Terminal are (see Google Maps, so we haven't identified any of these images as such, except the first pair of before/after images showing two obviously dislodged storage tanks. These tanks are next to the location identified in Google as the Mottiva Enterprises LLC address, and fit the descriptions in the news accounts very well. If you have better location information for the facility, please let us know. As for the slicks on the Arthur Kill, there seem to be several sources for this pollution as we stated in the blog post.

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