Delaware refinery hit with nearly $1 million penalty for a decade of air pollution violations

  • Emily Pontecorvo/WHYY

The Delaware City Refining Company, LLC has agreed to pay a $950,000 penalty to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control for violations of the Clean Air Act that date back to 2010. The settlement also addresses appeals the company made to DNREC-issued air quality permits. 

The violations include releases of volatile organic compounds, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide — pollutants that are known to cause breathing problems, skin irritation, and in some cases nausea, vomiting, and neurological effects such as dizziness. The refinery has also been cited for releases of methane, one of the most powerful heat-trapping gases that contributes to global warming.

DNREC has agreed to revise the permit language regarding emissions caps on certain units at the refinery. There is an annual cap on the facility’s emissions, but certain units have shorter-term limits that prevent large releases all at once. The new language allows the company more flexibility on some units under certain circumstances, such as when equipment is malfunctioning. 

The revised permits will now enter a comment period. Once the comment period closes and the revised permits are issued, pending no major changes, the company has agreed to dismiss its appeals.

DNREC has been fighting the refinery over outstanding air and water violations since the facility’s restart in June 2010. DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin told WHYY that the agency decided to separate the two issues due to the complicated nature of the air quality permit appeals. 

The new settlement does not cover outstanding water violations by the refinery or any air quality violations after October 2018. For example, it does not cover violations from a fire that broke out in February, releasing hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide into the air. Garvin said these more recent violations will be addressed through the usual investigation process.

“In any agreement, you don’t get utopia,” he said. “I think we got to a place in which we addressed a lot of backlogged issues that had been building up over time and set the stage for more clarity moving forward.” He expects to address future violations more quickly than those addressed by the settlement.

The Delaware City Refining Company is part of PBF energy, the owner of five refineries including the Paulsboro Refinery in Paulsboro, New Jersey.

“We are pleased to have reached a settlement agreement with DNREC regarding multiple air issues that go back almost eight years to the restart of the refinery,” said a spokesperson from the company.  “With this settlement agreement behind us, we remain committed to operating the refinery safely, reliably, and in an environmentally responsible manner.”

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