DOJ files civil suit against Motiva for 2001 Delaware refinery fire

By OGJ editors

WASHINGTON, DC, July 22 -- The US Department of Justice and Delaware filed civil suits against Motiva Enterprises LLC in connection with a fatal July 2001 tank explosion at Motiva's 144,000 b/d oil refinery in Delaware City, Del.

The company, a joint venture between Royal Dutch/Shell Group and Saudi Refining Inc., allegedly violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws. DOJ says the accident, which led to more than 1 million gal of sulfuric acid and hydrocarbons being spilled, was avoidable because the company did not perform proper maintenance.

"This explosion, resulting in a tragic death, injuries and environmental harm, should never have happened. The tank that exploded had a long history of corrosion, holes, and other problems and should have been taken out of service long before the explosion," said Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "By filing this suit, we aim to ensure that measures are taken to prevent such an incident from ever happening again."

The complaint was filed in the US District Court for the District of Delaware in Wilmington, Del. DOJ said criminal charges may be filed later.

DOJ allegations
The complaints also allege numerous other environmental violations by Motiva at its Delaware facility, including failure to follow required safety measures to prevent and control spills of petroleum, failure to promptly inspect numerous other tanks, and repeated failures to promptly inform public agencies of potential releases of dangerous pollutants.

Delaware's complaint was filed by the state's Department of Justice on behalf of the state's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). It alleges violations stemming from unpermitted air discharges and operating a hazardous waste treatment site without a permit. The complaint also seeks to recover investigative and response costs incurred by the state to have the court mandate that Motiva develop and implement an environmental management system in achieving compliance with environmental requirements.

In addition to the federal action, DOJ demanded an independent audit of the mechanical integrity programs and systems at the refinery. Recommendations for improvements along with a schedule of maintenance and repair activities will be incorporated into "a legally enforceable agreement that will include stipulated penalties," federal officials said.

Last August the US Environmental Protection Agency ordered Motiva to take several steps to ensure refinery safety. DOJ officials said federal environmental regulators continue to oversee Motiva's efforts in that area.

Motiva reaction
The company declined to discuss specific allegations. But Motiva in a written statement said it plans to continue its discussions with federal and state authorities "in an effort to fairly and promptly settle this matter."

Motiva said it has been cooperating with authorities since the accident last year and it "will also continue its cooperative approach as we work with the US EPA and DNREC to meet our commitments under the US EPA Response Action Plan."

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