ExxonMobil Fined $6 Million for Criminal Boston Harbor Spill

BOSTON, Massachusetts, December 23, 2008 (ENS) - The federal government today charged a wholly owned subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corporation with a criminal violation of the Clean Water Act in connection with a spill of 15,000 gallons of diesel oil into the Mystic River from ExxonMobil's oil terminal in Everett, Massachusetts.

ExxonMobil Pipeline Company has been charged with the January 2006 spill and today signed a plea agreement in which it will pay a fine of more than $6.1 million and agree to have the Everett terminal monitored by a court-appointed observer.

As set forth in the Information, since 1929 ExxonMobil Corporation and its corporate predecessors have owned a marine distribution terminal in Everett, where oil tankers deliver petroleum products that are distributed from the terminal throughout the region.

The Everett Terminal included an inland tank farm, with a tank loading rack and 29 large-scale oil storage tanks in which oil products were stored. Various above-ground pipes and valves connected those tanks to the Terminal's marine transfer area located at the confluence of the Mystic and Island End Rivers.

The Island End River flows into the Mystic River, which flows into Boston Harbor. Both rivers are navigable waterways of the United States.

The Terminal's marine transfer area was comprised of three berths. Barges and ships offload petroleum products that were piped to and stored in the tanks within the tank farm. Those products were then piped to the Terminal truck loading rack, where they were loaded onto trucks for distribution.

At 4:30 am on January 9, 2006, the oil tanker M/V Nara docked at Berth 3 to unload petroleum products, including 3.1 million gallons of low sulfur diesel fuel, which is blue-green in color.

Later that morning, hoses running from the Nara's tanks were attached to a product intake manifold on Berth 3. By mid-afternoon, pumps aboard the Nara began to pump the fuel from the vessel through the manifold into a product receipt line that was connected to storage tanks on the tank farm.

As it was being pumped from the Nara, the fuel flowed past a 10-inch seal valve located on Berth 3, which closed off a product receipt line from Berth 1. As a result of wear and tear, the valve did not close completely and leaked oil into the Berth 1 product receipt line.

ExxonMobil was aware of this defect, prosecutors charged. In September 2005, a contractor pressure-tested the value and informed ExxonMobil that it leaked. Nevertheless, ExxonMobil had failed to replace the valve by the time the Nara arrived in January 2006.

At the time of the spill, the line was 610 feet long and 10 inches in diameter, and was filled with 2,500 gallons of low sulfur kerosene. At the other end of the line was a pressure relief valve capped by a 3/4-inch coupling. The coupling had not been replaced in more than 30 years, was unpainted and was badly corroded, the prosecutors said.

A total of 2,500 gallons of kerosene and 12,700 gallons of low sulfur diesel poured into the Mystic River, causing a visible blue-green sheen on the river that spread up the Island End River and down to Boston Harbor, and prompting several reports to the Coast Guard.

ExxonMobil personnel did not discover the ruptured coupling until 11:00 am on January 11, when Coast Guard personnel arrived at the facility to ask questions about the origin of the sheen.

"ExxonMobil's negligent failure to provide adequate resources and oversight to the maintenance and operation of the Everett terminal was a direct cause of the spill," prosecutors said.

As part of its plea agreement, ExxonMobil has agreed to pay the maximum possible fine of $359,018, which amounts to twice the cost of the cleanup, the cleanup costs of $179,634, and a community service payment of $5,640,982 to the North American Wetlands Conservation Act fund to be used to restore wetlands in Massachusetts.

Fine monies from the prosecutions in the Buzzards Bay oil spill case and the recent Overseas Shipholding Group prosecution were directed into this fund where they were, and are continuing to be, used in wetlands restoration projects in Massachusetts.

ExxonMobil further agreed that for the next three years, the Everett facility will be monitored by a court-appointed official and will be subject to a rigorous environmental compliance program.

The plea agreement is subject to court approval.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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