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THE NEW YORK TIMES: Judge Fines Motiva $10M in Tank Explosion: “Motiva, a joint supply venture between Shell and Saudi Refining…”: “…pleaded no contest to state charges of criminally negligent homicide…”: “The company… has paid more than $60 million to settle lawsuits”: “It is still the subject of a federal lawsuit…” ( Posted 18 March 05




DOVER, Del. (AP) -- Refineries operator Motiva Enterprises LLC was fined $10 million Thursday after the company pleaded guilty to criminal charges relating to a fatal tank collapse and explosion at a refinery in 2001.


Motiva, a joint supply venture between Shell and Saudi Refining, pleaded guilty to negligently endangering workers at its former refinery in Delaware City as well as discharging pollutants into the Delaware River and negligently releasing sulfuric acid into the air, both in violation of the Clean Air Act.


Bert Molina, manager of regulatory affairs for Motiva, told the court that the company was ``truly sorry.''


Motiva was also sentenced to three years' probation. It has 15 days to pay the fine.


``We will make every effort to meet the deadline, if we haven't paid it already,'' said Motiva spokesman Shawn Frederick. He said the company had worked ``in good faith'' to reach the plea agreement.


The charges stem from a tank explosion and fire on July 17, 2001. The explosion killed boilermaker Jeffrey Davis of Pennsylvania, injured eight other workers, and spilled more than a million gallons of sulfuric acid, some of which flowed into the river. Davis' remains were never found.


The fine imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Sue Robinson in Wilmington is the largest criminal environmental fine in Delaware history, said Richard Andrews, first assistant U.S. attorney.


``It's pretty much the maximum fine that could be imposed, but this was a pretty horrible event, so the maximum fine is appropriate,'' he said.


Investigations by state and federal authorities found that the tank that exploded had a history of leaks and corrosion, and that Motiva had neglected safety and maintenance problems at the refinery for years.


``This dangerous manner of 'doing business' is a crime and will not be tolerated,'' said Thomas Skinner, the EPA's acting assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance.


Authorities said employees warned Motiva several times about the problems with the tank but nevertheless allowed workers to perform welding work in the area.


According to a report by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, permits for similar ``hot work'' in the sulfuric acid tank farm area were denied at least twice in the weeks before the accident because of concerns about leaking sulfur dioxide gas and flammable vapors.


Motiva pleaded no contest to state charges of criminally negligent homicide and assault in 2003 and was fined $296,000.


The company, which sold the refinery in May to Premcor Inc., has paid more than $60 million to settle lawsuits by Davis' family and the injured workers. It is still the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by the EPA and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.


``We have worked openly and cooperatively with investigating agencies, have accepted responsibility for our mistakes, and worked quickly to provide substantial monetary compensation for the injured parties and their families,'' Frederick said.

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