ExxonMobil Fined $6.1 Million for Boston Harbor Oil Spill

BOSTON, MASS. – A criminal information was filed today in federal court charging a wholly owned subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corporation with violating the criminal provisions of the Clean Water Act in connection with a spill of approximately 15,000 gallons of diesel oil into the Mystic River from ExxonMobil’s oil terminal in Everett, Mass.

United States Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, Stacey Mitchell, Chief, Environmental Crimes Section, Michael Hubbard, Special Agent in Charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division in New England, and Rear Admiral Dale Gabel, Commander First Coast Guard District, U.S. Coast Guard, announced today that Exxon Mobil Pipeline Company has been charged with a criminal violation of the Clean Water Act in connection with the January 2006 spill and has signed a plea agreement in which it will pay a total monetary payment of more than $6.1 million and agree to have the Everett terminal monitored by court appointed observer. The plea agreement is subject to court approval.

At approximately 4:30 A.M. on Jan. 9, 2006, the oil tanker M/V Nara docked at Berth 3 to unload petroleum products, including approximately 3.1 million gallons of low sulfur diesel (LSD) fuel, which is blue-green in color and is used as fuel in various types of engines. 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 LSD 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 LSD 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. 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. As a result, LSD pumped from the Nara leaked by the defective valve into the Berth 1 product receipt line. The line was approximately 610 feet long and 10 inches in diameter, and was filled with approximately 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.

As the Nara’s delivery continued, the leakage by the seal valve on Berth 3 built pressure in the Berth 1 product receipt line until the coupling on Berth 1 burst. The rupture sent the kerosene in the pipe, along with LSD from the Nara, pouring through the destroyed coupling into a rectangular containment pan on Berth 1, as depicted in the attached photograph. The fuel filled the containment pan and began to spill over its side and into the Mystic River below. The spill continued until approximately 5:00 A.M. on January 10, when pumping from the Nara ended.

A total of approximately 2,500 gallons of kerosene and 12,700 gallons of LSD poured into the Mystic River, causing a visible blue-green sheen on the Mystic River that eventually 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 and the full containment pan on Berth 1 until approximately 11:00 A.M. on January 11, when the Coast Guard 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. In particular, ExxonMobil negligently failed to replace the leaking seal valve on Berth 3, and to replace the unpainted and corroded coupling at Berth 1, which ruptured as a result of the leakage and pressure build-up in the product receipt line.

ExxonMobil also negligently allowed the spill to continue after it should have been discovered by failing adequately to monitor the transfer operations from the Nara. Although ExxonMobil’s employees were required to perform regular walk-through inspections of the berths, they failed to do so while the containment pan was spilling LSD into the Mystic River. Because the segment of the walkway over the containment pan was partially submerged when the pan filled, a routine walk-through of the berth, had one been performed, inevitably would have resulted in the detection of the spill while it was still occurring.

As part of its plea agreement, ExxonMobil has agreed to pay the maximum possible fine of $359,018 (twice the cost of the clean up), the clean up 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 an court-appointed official and will be subject to a rigorous environmental compliance program.

The case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan F. Mitchell of Sullivan’s Economic Crimes Unit, Special Assistant Attorney Andrew Lauterback of the EPA, Special Assistant United States Attorney U.S. Coast Guard LCDR Russell E. Bowman, and Gary Donner and Malinda Lawrence, Trial Attorneys, Environmental Crimes Section, U.S. Department of Justice.

If you have any problems viewing this article, please report it here.