Cleaning up the largest oil spill in the United States

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PHOTO CREDIT: CASSANDRA WILLYARD

Earth magazine has a riveting account of the history of the largest oil spill in the U.S., and the cleanup technologies being developed to deal with it. And that oil spill is not where you think it is, unless you're thinking Brooklyn, New York. "The plume â'' a toxic concoction of kerosene, fuel oil, gasoline and naptha (a key ingredient in napalm) â'' floats at the top of a subterranean aquifer beneath the working-class community of Greenpoint in Brooklyn."

Experts say between 17 and 30 million gallons of oil have been accumulating there since the mid-1800s. Oil companies started the cleanup about 30 years ago, but only 9.5 million gallons of oil have been recovered. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, finishing the job could take another 25 years.

To get the oil out of the ground, ExxonMobil siphons it from the water table using a system similar to skimming fat off the top of a pot of chicken soup (delicious!). So far, the company has pulled about 6 million gallons of oil out of the ground.

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