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Release Date: 7/15/2002
Contact Information: DOJ (202) 514-2007, David Sternberg (EPA) (215) 814-5548, David Small (DE) (302) 739-4403

DOJ (202) 514-2007, David Sternberg (EPA) (215) 814-5548, David Small, (DE) (302) 739-4403

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Delaware announced today that the United States and Delaware have filed civil suits against Motiva Enterprises, LLC in connection with the July 2001 tank explosion at Motiva’s oil refinery in Delaware City, Del. The federal action is being filed for violation of the Clean Water Act and other laws enacted by Congress to protect public health and the environment. The complaints allege that the explosion, which released more than one million gallons of sulfuric acid and hydrocarbons, was caused by gross negligence in the operation and maintenance of the tank.

The tank explosion resulted in one death and eight other people being hospitalized with serious injuries. In addition, tens of thousands of gallons of sulphuric acid entered the Delaware River, causing the death of thousands of fish, hundreds of blue crabs and other severe environmental damage.

“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 the Justice Department’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.”

“These complaints hold Motiva directly accountable for the environmental damage caused by this incident. Those who fail to live up to their responsibilities to protect human health and the environment must be called to account,” said Donald S. Welsh, EPA Regional Administrator for the mid-Atlantic region.

Today’s filings follow a lengthy joint investigation conducted by EPA, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

When violations are caused by gross negligence, the amount of possible civil penalty may be tripled by a court. The final amount will depend on a variety of factors including the seriousness of the incident, the degree of defendant’s fault, whether the company made good faith efforts to comply with the law and whether the company has a history of violating environmental laws.

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 tank 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 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 Department and to have the Court mandate that Motiva develop and implement an environmental management system in achieving compliance with environmental requirements.

“July 17, 2001 was a dark day for Delaware,” said DNREC Secretary Nicholas A. DiPasquale. “The filing of these complaints addresses environmental impacts and will help bring closure to the event. We chose to join the federal complaint to utilize EPA’s broader and more substantial enforcement authorities. In addition to this federal action, the Department is also engaged in a separate effort to require 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.”

On August 1, 2001, EPA ordered Motiva to take numerous steps to ensure the short and long term safety of the refinery. EPA has also been overseeing Motiva’s work and monitoring the company’s compliance with EPA’s order. Furthermore, the lawsuit filed today asks the court to impose additional safety requirements to prevent or minimize the possibility of any future risk to public safety and the environment from Motiva’s operations in Delaware City. Today’s action does not preclude the filing of any criminal actions.

The complaint was filed today in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware in Wilmington, Del.