Plan for Refinery Shoreline Stabilization Project raises questions; Sierra Club requests public hearing
The State of Delaware recently noticed a new plan by the Delaware City Refinery to stabilize the shoreline from sea level rise and erosion. While on the surface the plan looks like a progressive way to protect the refinery's shoreline and fire suppression equipment (behind the docks in the oil unloading/loading area), a closer look reveals serious problems with the plan and a lack of substantiation of claims made about environmental benefits with evidence and documentation.
Because the original public notice on the project did not include the documents under review and sufficient public comment period, and the subsequent public notice was not sent out to DNREC's Public Notice email distribution list, we have asked for an additional 30 days of public comment period and a public hearing.
Climate Change and Sea Level Rise at a Tar Sands Refinery
The application purports that this project will “provide a designed solution that has the resilience to deal with Sea Level Rise for at least 50 years” by eliminating wave energy that is eroding the shoreline, and provide for the natural accretion of sediment that is supplemented by dredge material. Thus, the Delaware City Refining Company acknowledges the risks posed to its facility by sea level rise.
Delaware’s Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee’s publication, Preparing for Tomorrow’s High Tide (2013) describes current and anticipated trends in sea level rise resulting from climate change and subsidence. Delaware’s rate of sea level rise is twice the global average as ocean waters warm and expand and ice caps melt; a trend that is expected to accelerate in the coming decades. Delaware’s coastal areas could experience sea levels at 0.5 to 1.5 meters above their present level by 2100. Adjusting to the new conditions of higher sea levels, the report suggests, should involve planning for adaptation measures and building adaptive capacity.
The State of Delaware has launched and/or participates in numerous programs to help reduce climate change-inducing carbon emissions, including the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Renewable Portfolio Standard, Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, Low-Emission Vehicles Standards, and the Sustainable Energy Utility. Yet, the Delaware City Refinery has placed us all at increased risk of sea level rise though by expanding its footprint for greenhouse gas emissions through its choice of refining Canadian tar sands and fracked Bakken crude oil.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory evaluated the carbon dioxide emissions from numerous crude oil feedstocks and reported the emissions of the extraction and processing of Canadian tar sands, and found that bitumen and synthetic crude are responsible for much higher emissions of greenhouse gases than conventional crude oils.
The Delaware City Refinery, therefore, has chosen to process the crude oil with some of the highest, if not the very highest, contribution to greenhouse gases per barrel, while simultaneously preparing for sea level rise. This raises grave concerns about the imperceptive contribution of the Delaware City Refinery to climate change and sea level rise in Delaware, which increases the risks that are being placed on coastal communities throughout the entire region. We would like this to be considered in the state review of the impacts of this project.
Scenarios are Limited and Inadequate
The Delaware City Refining Company Federal Consistency Determination application submitted to the Delaware Coastal Management Program for the Shoreline Stabilization and Restoration Project describes the impact of sea level rise and severe erosion on its riverbank. The impact of the loss of shoreline threatens fire safety infrastructure at the refinery. Numerous photographs and maps were included that demonstrate the impact of the receding shoreline on the refinery’s infrastructure. Sea level rise, if left unchecked, would present a risk to public health and the environment by harming the refinery’s ability to respond to spills and catastrophic events at the dock and shoreline. Protecting the adjacent community, the Coastal Zone, and the Delaware River from accidents at the refinery should be a high priority for the refinery and State and Federal governments.
To accomplish its goal of protecting the shoreline, the Delaware City Refinery evaluated four scenarios: 1) no action, 2) shoreline riprap, 3) energy attenuation with complete nourishment for the phase I portion, and 4) energy attenuation with minimal nourishment for the phase I portion. The refinery selected option 3 for its ability to meet the project’s goals of shoreline stabilization and its environmental enhancement attributes to fish, shellfish, benthic invertebrates, and wildlife.
We question the wisdom of selecting a scenario that would attract fish, shellfish, benthic invertebrates and wildlife to an area under active use for loading and unloading crude oil and refinery products, within the response area for firefighting infrastructure, subject to potential oil spills and use of chemical dispersants, and adjacent to the water intake for a once-through cooling system that is documented to impinge and entrain millions of fish each year.
None of the scenarios offered incorporate wave attenuation and shoreline stabilization without the risks to fish, shellfish, benthic life and wildlife. We therefore ask that a fifth scenario be included in the analysis that provide the wave attenuation and shoreline stabilization that the Refinery needs to protect it from severe erosion and sea level rise, while not inviting aquatic and wildlife into an area where they could be harmed or could transport oil residues, firefighting chemicals or other synthetic products into adjacent habitat zones.
Oil Spill and Hazard Mitigation
Part 6, Delaware Coastal Zone Consistency Review, states: “This project will provide improved emergency boom deployment capabilities in case of an oil spill.” However, the design of the wave attenuation devices is to trap sediment and create a wetland uplift. The application does not consider the impact of oil spill and fire suppression chemicals on the habitat zone created by this project and the potential for the bioaccumulation of hazardous contaminants by commercial and recreational fish species due to the design features of the project.
In reference to 2.4.2, which requires the coastal strip to be “protected from the impacts of heavy industry and oil pollution for the purpose of recreation, tourism, fishing, crabbing, and gathering other marine life useful in food production. [7 Del. C. §§7001, 6201]”, Part 6 claims that the “project is a “green” approach to provide shoreline stability, intertidal function uplift, and improved emergency spill containment capabilities.” Part 6 also states that “This project will not result in the pollution of or contamination of submerged lands.” This claim is made without providing any evidence on how the project’s design, which will increase trapped sediment, and will be located between an oil refinery loading/unloading dock and the shoreline, will not contribute to the contamination of submerged lands.
In the advent of an oil spill, how will the wave attenuation devices be cleaned? How will the refinery prevent oil for infiltrating the sediment? How will this area not be subjected to the contamination of submerged lands? How will fish, birds and other wildlife be protected from oiling?
The impact of the project on improved oil spill containment capabilities has not been proven in the application documents. Furthermore, the project presents the increased likelihood of bioaccumulation of hazardous contaminants that could stress fisheries areas already under severe fish consumption advisories. The claims made in the application are not substantiated through documentation. Using the information provided in the application package, the project may very well harm recreation, tourism and habitat by drawing fish and wildlife to a habitat area that includes oil residues.
The Delaware City Refinery is operating on administrative extensions to its NPDES permit that expired in 2002. Numerous research publications by the State of Delaware and the EPA have documented the extent of the impact of the cooling water intake on aquatic life. The application, which claims that the area adjacent to the mouth of the cooling water intake channel, would be attractive to fish, create new fish habitat, but does not consider the impact of this new habitat area on impingement and entrainment.
Part 7 of the application includes a letter dated August 27, 2013 from the National Marine Fisheries Service asks for consultation on endangered species and essential fish habitat. More information was also requested on the impact of the project on bluefish, horseshoe crabs, summer flounder, striped bass, alewife, blueback herring and American shad. The letter asserted that insufficient information was provided to offer preliminary comments on erosion rates, area of aquatic habitat to be filled, details on the wave attenuation devices, sediment transport modeling, the existing habitat values, water depths and proposed plantings for wetland creation. There is no evidence that any of these requests were fulfilled to satisfy the information needs of the National Marine Fisheries Service, or that any attempt was made to reach out to the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. There is no evidence to support the claim that the fish habitat area will be improved or a net benefit, or that it would not increase the mortality of fish in the cooling water intake structure. This issue should be examined in detail and documented prior to a public hearing. Changes to the shoreline that would attract fish to the mouth of the cooling water intake structure should be considered in conjunction with the issuance of a new NPDES permit for the refinery.
Historic and Cultural Impacts
Part 7 of the application includes a letter from the State of Delaware Division Historic and Cultural Affairs, which found that there would be no historic properties affected. The letter, dated August 30, 2013, states that the historic district of Delaware City is situated to the west of this project. However, that information is not correct. The historic district of Delaware City is located to the south and east of the project, and downstream.
It appears as though the State of Delaware Division of Historic and Cultural Affairs based their assessment on incorrect geographic information. The Division of Historic and Cultural Affairs appears to have only evaluated whether the area directly within the footprint of the refinery included any historic properties, and not if the project would impact the historic properties in the adjacent town.
Delaware City Historic District is a national historic district that includes 204 buildings. The town of Delaware City routinely floods during high tide storm events. The impacts of the project on the adjacent town, including modeling the potential for scouring of the shoreline at the edges of the wave attenuation structure and the redirection of wave action towards Delaware City, have not been explored or described as part of this permit application and should be carefully considered. The nearby community of Delaware City should be provided assurances that this project will not increase localized flooding.
Shoreline Birds Impacts
Part 3 states that “shoreline birds and potentially coastal nesting birds may benefit from the low energy system created as a result of the project.” Part 6 states that the project will have “some increased habitat for finfish, wading birds, and waterfowl,” yet there will be “no known significant nesting areas in project areas.” The application therefore ignores that the site is less than a mile from one of the region’s most important nesting areas for wading birds and fish-eating birds, the Pea Patch Island Heronry.
The impact of increased habitat within an oil loading/unloading area has not been explored in the application, and should the potential impact of oil spills on nesting birds that feed amongst the wave attention structures. If this project is indeed an attractive habitat area for fish and a feeding area for birds, it could lead to devastating consequences if birds were to transport oil residue back to the nesting site.