Residents will be ‘up Morses Creek without a paddle’

Exxon settlement allows portion of cleanup to be delayed until the refinery closes, but will it?

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Although the state claimed the $225 million settlement with ExxonMobil meets the goals set for the case, the oil company might be off the hook when it comes to cleaning up Morses Creek.

After more than a month of debating exactly what the state conceded to in the settlement with the mega oil company, on Monday it became clear that Morses Creek, which feeds into the Arthur Kill, will not be cleaned up anytime soon. If ever.

According to the 41-page settlement agreement, ExxonMobil does not have to clean up Morses creek until Phillips 66, which now owns the refinery, closes the Linden Bayway Refinery. On Monday, critics of the settlement, including legislators, said the state gave ExxonMobil a pass when it came to the creek, which consultants said is so contaminated it may not ever be able to be restored to ecological health. And, for those who think Phillips 66 is about to close the Linden refinery, think again.

Phillips 66, which took over the facility in 2012, is a growing company, according to information obtained by LocalSource. In fact, in October 2014 the company said their “growth story continues.”

In October 2014, Phillips 66 Partners, a limited partnership formed by Phillips 66, acquired two new refineries, including one in Linden and another in Washington State. Phillips 66 Partners will be spending $340 million in the next five years to upgrade both facilities and develop a new pipeline system to ship oil, according to the company’s own website.

Breaking Energy, an online forum that covers the energy industry, noted that Phillips 66 Partners could easily see a 2015 distribution growth in excess of 20 percent given the refineries acquired in Linden and Washington State.

Right now the Linden refinery is producing 238,000 barrels a day of crude oil. The closing of other refineries along the east coast also helped Phillips 66, noting that in 2013 the company had first quarter earnings of $1.4 billion that year compared to the $636 million in the first quarter of 2012.

Also notable is that while many of the refineries on the east coast are considered a dying breed because they can only process the highest grade oil, the Bayway refinery has an advantage because it can handle a variety of crude oils.
That leaves New Jersey residents up Morses Creek without a paddle.

But the Morses Creek cleanup delay is only one concern that environmental groups have expressed with the proposed settlement.

For example, under the proposed settlement, ExxonMobil does not have to clean up the entire Bayway Refinery site the way DEP wanted when the lawsuit began in 2004.

Under the latest deal, Exxon only has to remediate, not restore, the 1,700 acres of wetlands to its original state. That means under the original court case, ExxonMobil would have had to restore the site to how it was before the spills, leaks and industrial accidents, not just “cap” over the 7 million gallons of oil and 600 different chemical contaminants in the ground and waterways.

Since 1991 ExxonMobil has undertaken cleanup remediation, spending $250 million in the process, and will continue the effort until DEP is satisfied. However, there is a difference between restoration and capping the site, which is basically covering up the oil contaminants to ensure nothing leaks out, according to Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
Tittel’s concern is that the cleanup plans do nothing to clean up the site.

“Who does this benefit other than ExxonMobil?” he said, adding that he did not know why the state “went this way.”
The proposed deal also limits the state or DEP from filing future damage claims or lawsuits on the Linden Bayway Refinery acreage or in Bayonne unless the contamination stems from MTBE, methyl tertiary butyl ether, an additive to gasoline, in the groundwater.

Nevertheless, with capping the site, contaminants can still leak into the ground-water.