ROSSVILLE TANKS

by Kevin Walsh

Though I haven’t been there for a couple of years, I have always been attracted to Rossville on Staten Island’s southwest, not least for its Ship Graveyard and several colonial-era cemeteries. Today, though, my focus is on Rossville’s two hulking rusted liquefied natural-gas tanks at Arthur Kill and Bloomingdale roads, which have been empty for decades but have not been disassembled or imploded, as the Maspeth Tanks were in July 2001.

Natural gas was supposed to be one of the saviors that would free us from the yoke of purchasing and importing oil from the Middle East in the 1970s. Natural gas would be extracted from underground and thereupon stored in large tanks. The gas would become liquid if chilled sufficiently — down to minus 258 degrees. It could then be transported countrywide in tank trucks refrigerated to the same degree. In Rossville, a company called Distrigas (“distribute gas,” get it) built the two hulking tanks. However, the plan never clicked and the tanks were never filled.

Local residents and politicians such as Guy Molinari fought a pitched battle against Distrigas, though they couldn’t stop the construction of the tanks. Liquefied natural gas is highly volatile if the already-chilled substance suddenly is warmed by refrigeration failure and can violently explode. Poison gas that could be similarly sparked to explode would then be distributed over a wide area. Just such a LNG explosion did occur in a nearby near-empty LNG tank in Bloomfield in February 1973. The explosion caused a wall of concrete to fall 100 feet, killing 40 workers. Then-Mayor John Lindsay, serving out his second term, ordered LNG-associated construction to stop.

Since 1973, the tanks have been there as monuments to hubris, of sorts, though the USA has striven to become energy self-sufficient. Methods to extract gas from the ground such as hydraulic fracturing, have been shown to be environmentally damaging, say advocates.

Not only the empty tanks are reminders of the project. Dead-end Chemical Lane, unmarked by the Department of Transportation, leads to a paintball building. Just west of this is the old Staten Island Correctional Facility, where soundstages are found these days. Back in 2004, I was with an urban explorer I have since lost track of named Andrew who announced his intention to climb a ladder to the top of one of the tanks. Coward that I am, I demurred, and he wound up not doing it. We did explore plenty of Rossville abandoned buildings that have since been razed, though.

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4/22/21

12 comments

Charles Gallo April 22, 2021 - 11:37 am

That 1973 explosion woke us up in Flushing

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Peter April 22, 2021 - 12:25 pm

My workplace occupies the site of the 1973 tank explosion that caused 40 deaths. However it isn’t haunted. At least I don’t think so.

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Patrick April 22, 2021 - 7:12 pm

Saw these tanks during a hike through Clay Pits Pond Preserve last winter. A scenic vista spoiled.

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Edward April 23, 2021 - 10:50 am

Was living in West Brighton at the time of the 1973 explosion, and it shook the whole house, even from over 8 miles away. The tanks have shown up recently on a few episodes of “The Blacklist” that filmed at the former Arthur Kill prison nearby. The scenes were supposedly set in Virginia, but I could tell by those old tanks in the background that it was actually Staten Island.

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Daniel Tartaglione April 23, 2021 - 11:49 am

There used to be a golf range right next to the tanks but
It’s been closed for a few years now

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UKoops April 26, 2021 - 7:43 pm

There was a big painted ad for the golf range on the side of the tanks visible from the West Shore Expressway. We used to drive by when i was a kid and my dad convinced us that the golf range was INSIDE the tanks 🙂

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James MURPHY April 23, 2021 - 5:12 pm

Do you have any photos of the James H Merritt / ITT Grinnell building across the street? Worked there while the tanks were built.

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Tal Barzilai April 23, 2021 - 6:24 pm

I think the reason why these tanks are still here today could be because Rossville isn’t as much of selling neighborhood where Maspeth probably is.

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Norman J. Brouwer April 24, 2021 - 8:16 pm

A fleet of wooden schooner barges was abandoned off that point. They apparently burned down to the waterline, but their complete lower hulls were still visible at low tide in the early 1980s. They had been; HERDIS, a barkentine built in Chelsea, MA in 1917; CAMDEN, a three-masted schooner built at Cleveland, OH in 1872; DEVON, built as a schooner barge at Bath, Maine in 1895; and HATTERAS, built as a sidewheel steamboat in Brooklyn in 1865 to replace one sunk off Galveston in the Civil War.

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chris c April 25, 2021 - 11:07 am

transporting LNP is extremely hazardous. those tanks would have been filled from a ship on the Arthur Kill. USCG requires all water traffic to halt for miles around while a LNG ship is transiting. in such a densely populated area, this was a very bad idea from the get go.

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Dave April 25, 2021 - 7:07 pm

My father went to the 1973 explosion while working for the FDNY. If I am not mistaken an Hasidic group bought the tanks years ago intending to build a community on the site. They were suppose to get demo permits. That was about 20 years ago.

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eddie May 2, 2021 - 10:22 pm

over 130 people were killed in a jewish neighborhood in cleveland in a gas tank explosion near the end of the second world war. it was horrifying and went on for a long time as gas sunk into the sewers and people’s plumbing blew flames and manholes exploded. they even found one manhole cover miles away in the glenville neighborhood. the lesson and outcome was those big liquid gas tanks were all supposed to be buried after that.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleveland_East_Ohio_Gas_explosion

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