Oil Spill Liability Cap Elimination Signed, Resolution Calling for Reports on ‘Crude by Rail’ Passes House

Oil Spill Liability Cap Elimination Signed, Resolution Calling for Reports on ‘Crude by Rail’ Passes House

DOVER – Two pieces of legislation addressing the transporting of oil to the Delaware City Refinery – one lifting a 36-year-old monetary cap for oil spills, the other asking the refinery and rail company to provide more information about rail shipments of crude oil – wound their way through Legislative Hall Thursday.

Both measures are sponsored by House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst and Sen. Nicole Poore, whose districts include the Delaware City Refinery. House Concurrent Resolution 27, which passed the House unanimously Thursday, requests refinery operator PBF Energy and rail freight carrier Norfolk Southern to:

  • Provide monthly reports detailing the crossing times of all PBF inbound and outbound trains at several Delaware crossings;
  • Increase their communication in an effort to become more efficient in the “crude by rail” shipments so as to avoid delays;
  • Work with the state and federal governments to develop more quiet zones;
  • Identify and propose additional infrastructure improvements to the rail lines to help improve efficiency and safety;
  • Work in conjunction with DelDOT and provide the required funding to maintain safe rail lines and crossings in conformance with federal and DelDOT guidelines and standards.

Since PBF reopened the shuttered plant in 2011, it has announced that the facility will continue to expand its “crude by rail” shipments to the refinery with a goal of 150,000 barrels a day being delivered by the end of the year. Rep. Longhurst said the increased train traffic has become a huge concern for area residents regarding health, safety, noise, traffic and pollution.

“We are obviously happy to see the refinery doing well and increasing business, because that means more good-paying jobs for Delawareans. But we also have to keep a close watch on how the refinery’s increased crude shipments affect our communities and make sure we are protecting them,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Delaware City. “The biggest step in this process is improving communication between the communities and the refinery about their operations. By working together, we can hopefully address concerns about issues such as traffic, rail infrastructure, safety, pollution and quiet zones.”

Gov. Jack Markell signed House Bill 32 into law Thursday, effectively eliminating a 36-year-old monetary cap on the fine that can be imposed for oil spills. The bill updates Delaware’s Oil Pollution Act to make it consistent with federal law and removes liability limits for oil spills, a limit that was established in 1977 and has not been adjusted for inflation. Currently, Delaware’s liability limits are well below federal limits.

While notable oil spills have been confined to Delaware’s waters, the new law eliminates the fine cap for spills that occur on land.

Sen. Poore said the measures are part of an ongoing effort to protect surrounding communities and improve communication between the refinery and residents.”

“This was a collaborative effort among all parties to do the right thing. Rep. Longhurst and I try to find healthy balance between protecting jobs in Delaware, protecting our environment and preserving quality of life for our constituents,” said Sen. Poore, D-Delaware City. “Lifting the oil liability limits is an insurance policy for Delaware to ensure our environment is protected should a spill occur.”

Surrounding states Maryland and Pennsylvania have unlimited liability, while Virginia has unlimited liability for cleanup and a $10 million limit on damages.