News | January 28, 2014

Sierra Club: Delaware River Spill Highlights The Dangers Of Regional Oil Infrastructure

Two Recent Events Near Philadelphia Could Have Been Much Worse

Around 1,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Delaware River on Monday afternoon from the Monroe Energy LLC site, the Philadelphia oil refinery owned by Delta Airlines. The US Coast Guard responded to the scene to contain and clean up the oil spilling from the site, which is upstream from the drinking water intake for much of New Castle County. Just last week a train derailed over a Philadelphia railroad bridge carrying crude oil and sand. Luckily no oil leaked into the River or exploded in that event, but the two recent incidents raise serious questions about the safety of regional oil refineries and rail infrastructure.

Are Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey prepared for future spills like the one from Monroe Energy? What if the oil that escaped into the River were tar sands, a much heavier, more viscous and toxic type of crude currently being refined at the Delaware City Refinery? We have seen time and time again around that tar sands does not act like traditional oil when it reaches water—instead of floating on the top in a sheen, the chemical laced crude sinks to the bottom making clean up virtually impossible. The most notorious tars sands spill was into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in July 2010. Well over three years later the Kalamazoo spill has still not been cleaned up.

Could the train that derailed in Philadelphia last week have been carrying Bakken Shale oil on its way through Newark and other densely populated parts of Delaware, as trains do every day, en route to the Delaware City Refinery? What if one of the train cars had exploded, as so many of these cars have in the past year—most notoriously in the small town of Lac-Megantic, Canada killing 47 and most recently in Casselton, ND in December. Are our first responders prepared to deal with an explosion of this Bakken oil which federal regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and US D.O.T. say is more volatile and dangerous than other kinds of oil and may corrode the insides of rail cars?

We are lucky that these two incidents with oil infrastructure close to home, as bad and as scary as they were, were not much worse—but next time we may not be so lucky.

PBF Energy has proposed to put even more oil onto the Delaware River via a new bulk product transfer from their Delaware City refinery to their other incident-prone refinery in Paulsboro, NJ. Essentially, northern Delaware will assume all of the risk of a potentially deadly train disaster so that PBF can bring in up to 45,000 bpd more than they can refine at Delaware City and put that oil on barges up the Delaware to the Paulsboro refinery which has had multiple serious spills in the past, including most recently a spill of 6.6 million gallons into the River in 2012. Another oil spill, especially one involving tar sands, could drive a nail into the coffin of already struggling, commercially and ecologically valuable marine species in the Delaware River.

“Even though this spill was terrible we are lucky this wasn’t tar sands, since it is much more complex and difficult to clean up. Hopefully this spill has been fully contained and will be thoroughly cleaned up, but next time we may not be so lucky. With the increase of the toxic tar sands and explosive Bakken Shale oil being shipped through our region by rail and the proposal of PBF Energy to put even more of this oil on the Delaware River—shipping it from Delaware City to their Paulsboro refinery—We are gravely concerned about the increased risk for a disaster which could impact the environment and public health in Delaware.” said John Irwin, Delaware Sierra Club Chapter Chair.

SOURCE: Sierra Club