Cooling water permit for Delaware City Refinery is long overdue
The cooling water intake structure of the Delaware City Refinery is operating on a permit that expired in 2002. Not only has the State of Delaware allowed this to occur, it has offered additional extensions to the refinery for its 2011 restart, and provides a multi-year compliance timeline for the installation of best available technology with in the draft NPDES permit (2011).
The ongoing and cumulative impacts of the cooling water intake at the Delaware City Refinery are not only damaging to the commercial and recreational fisheries of the Delaware River and the tourism of the region; the fish impingement and entrainment by the Delaware City Refinery is a threat to the integrity of the aquatic ecosystem. The Refinery is located within critical fish habitat in the Delaware Estuary, including nursery areas for stripped bass and weakfish.
The EPA estimates that the annual economic damages from the Delaware City Refinery on fisheries alone to be as high as $5.8 million dollars annually. While there are strict limits on commercial and recreational fishing, the refinery is able to kill fish indiscriminately and without limit.
At our July 9th Sierra Club Forum on the fish impacts of the Delaware City Refinery, the representative from the refinery, Mr. Robert Muche, stated that the refinery planned to reduce its cooling water intake by 30% as part of its planned $1 billion expansion. The refinery has not presented any evidence to suggest that a reduction in water intake by 30% through improvements in the efficiency of their operations will have any impact on its fish kills at all, or come close to the needed 95% reduction in mortality from their cooling system. Furthermore, since our July 9th meeting, the refinery has also announced that it is deferring its expansion until an unknown date, leaving the issue of fish impingement and entrainment once again uncertain.
To place the situation in a wider context, since the refinery restart, it has received $45 million in state financial aid. Recent news reports suggest that an additional $20 million in loans may be converted into grants, and the 2012 gross receipts tax exemptions for the refinery offer millions more in additional fossil fuel subsidies at taxpayer expense. While the state has offered millions of dollars to this corporation, it has allowed the refinery to delay long-overdue and necessary upgrades to its antiquated equipment, administratively extending long-expired permits and providing a drawn-out period of time for the development and implementation of remedies.
While the State of Delaware has offered financial incentives for the Delaware City Refinery, enabling it to continue to kill an inordinate amount of fish, DNREC’s own reports indicate that the problem is serious and urgent. The 2008 report by Dr. Desmond Kahn stated that “the refinery has been operating with its current intake structures since the early 1950s; significant improvement appears to be long overdue.”
That the issue of fish impingement and entrainment at the Delaware City Refinery has been overlooked or ignored by the State of Delaware for decades following the first scientific reports of its devastating impacts on aquatic life, most recently in the May 2010 “Agreement Governing the Acquisition and Operation of the Delaware City Refinery”, calls into question the ability or willingness of the State of Delaware to use its own scientific knowledge and expertise to protect the resources of Delaware.
The implementation of remedies for fish impingement and entrainment at the Delaware City Refinery must be taken more seriously by state government and the process for determining these remedies must become more transparent.
The "Agreement Governing the Acquisition and Operation of Delaware City Refinery" signed by DNREC on May 31, 2010 states in item #48 that the draft NPDES permit will allow the refinery to take five years to determine what they consider to be the Best Technology Available. Two years and two months have already passed and DNREC has already made a BTA determination. Even when the draft NPDES permit is noticed, it could take months if not years to issue a final permit, given the time for a public hearing, appeal, Superior Court appeal, etc.
The Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club has asked the State of Delaware utilize all of its powers under state and federal law to protect the natural resources of the citizens of this state. The end of fish mortality by the Delaware City Refinery is an issue of public importance.