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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