Environmental Advocacy

20-Year Court Battle Against Texaco Ends;
Oil Giant Held Accountable

Settlement Agreement Requires Texaco to Fund Environmental Projects in Delaware

(October 4, 2007) – On the eve of a contempt trial and after nearly 20 years of legal wrangling, Texaco today reached a settlement agreement with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Delaware Audubon Society for repeated violations of water pollution limits and Court Orders. The groups had taken Texaco to court five separate times over the previous two decades in order to stop the oil company from polluting the Delaware River.

"Texaco waged a war of attrition, clearly expecting that NRDC and Delaware Audubon would blink first," said NRDC attorney Mitchell Bernard. "But for 20 years, we didn't give up and we didn't go away. Today we are holding Texaco accountable for its environmental lawbreaking, and making sure that they do right by the communities that have had to live with Texaco's pollution."

The settlement agreement requires Texaco (and its successor corporation Motiva) to fund $2.25 million in environmental benefit projects in the Delaware City area. More than $1 million will go to Delaware State Parks projects including reforestation, invasive species control, and installation of a remote camera and video display terminals at the Pea Patch Island Heronry. $675,000 will be provided to Main Street Delaware City, Inc. to support several projects under their Eco-Tourism Program.

"The areas around Delaware City represent some of the most important eco-systems in the state and the region," said Nick DiPasquale, Conservation Chair for Delaware Audubon. "Over the past half century, this area has suffered significantly as a result of environmental assaults from the Delaware City industrial complex. Nonetheless, these ecosystems have survived. The environmental projects funded by this settlement will go a long way toward restoring the ecology of the area and enhancing public access to some of Delaware's most remarkable natural resources."

Today's settlement stems from a contempt motion filed against Texaco by NRDC and Delaware Audubon in 2005. The contempt motion alleged the oil giant violated elements of a court order requiring the company to study the impacts of its unlawful pollution discharges on the Delaware River. Under the pressure of an imminent trial, Texaco reached a settlement.

The original action was filed against Texaco in 1988 by Delaware Audubon and NRDC as a citizen suit under the federal Clean Water Act for water discharge violations at the Delaware City Refinery.

NRDC and Delaware Audubon won the first of three court trials against Texaco in 1992, after NRDC scientists uncovered evidence from the oil company's own internal reports that it had been knowingly discharging oil, grease and other highly toxic pollutants into the Delaware since 1983, in excess of what its permit allowed. A federal judge, calling the case "practically unassailable," determined that Texaco had violated the Clean Water Act on a total 3,360 days.

The company was ordered to pay a fine of $1.68 million, to fully comply with water pollution laws and to ascertain the damage it had caused to the fragile Delaware River ecosystem. However, Texaco repeatedly defied court orders to take full responsibility for illegally dumping highly toxic pollutants into the river. Over the next 15 years, Delaware Audubon and NRDC took Texaco back to court on multiple occasions to enforce the terms of the original court orders.

The lawsuit was initiated at the urging of Grace Pierce-Beck, a long-time environmental activist and former Conservation Chair for Delaware Audubon.

"In many respects, this settlement agreement is a testament and tribute to the work of Grace and many of her local and national colleagues, who, despite some pretty overwhelming odds, took on a corporate Goliath," said Mark Martell, President of Delaware Audubon. "We are proud to honor their efforts through a settlement that will result in tangible environmental benefits for Delaware and the Delaware City community."

A Chronology:

1988, May - Delaware Audubon and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a citizen suit against Texaco Refining and Marketing, Inc. for over 300 violations of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

1989, August - In the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, Judge Jane Roth found Texaco violated wastewater discharge limits 369 times between March 1983 and January 1989.

1992, August - Judge Roth ruled in favor of Delaware Audubon and NRDC. Texaco was ordered to pay a penalty of more than $1.5 million.

1994, January - Delaware Audubon and NRDC informed Judge Longobardi that Texaco had violated its NPDES permit seven times. Five of the violations constituted contempt of the August 1992 and November 1993 orders of the court.

1994, May - Delaware Audubon and NRDC filed a contempt motion.

1994, December - A settlement agreement on the contempt motion was finalized. Texaco agreed to pay $361,000. These funds went to Delaware Wildlands and the Delaware Nature Society for environmental projects.

1995, April - Delaware Audubon and NRDC requested permission to file a motion to compel Texaco to comply with the monitoring requirement embodied in the U.S. District Court's orders in August, 1992 and November, 1993, requiring Texaco to determine the nature and impact of non-complying discharges from the Delaware City refinery.

1996, March -Judge Longobardi heard arguments on the above request of Delaware Audubon and NRDC. He granted the request.

1998 - Trial on remedy for Texaco's violation of court order

1998, September - Judge Longobardi ruled Texaco must comply with court orders to do the monitoring program set forth by the court. Texaco appealed this to the Third Circuit Court.

1999, May - Texaco lost the appeal. The Third Circuit Court ruled that Texaco must accept the monitoring program approved by Judge Longobardi.

1999, September - Delaware Audubon and NRDC filed motions to require Texaco to implement the court ordered monitoring plan and to clarify injunctions.

2000, January - Trial on remedy for Texaco's failure to implement court-ordered monitoring plan.

2000, February - The Court issued a Stipulated Order to Texaco requiring it to implement the monitoring plan and carry out the environmental studies.

2005, July - Delaware Audubon and NRDC filed a motion to enforce the terms of the Court's Opinion and Order of September 1, 1998 and the February 23, 2000 Stipulated Order.

2005, September - Texaco filed a motion for relief from the Court's injunction.

2006, March 1 - The Court conducted an oral hearing on the motions.

2006, August 31 - The Court issues an Order scheduling an evidentiary hearing to "examine whether Texaco's data is reliable and whether it demonstrates compliance with the Stipulated Order. . ."

2007, September - Delaware Audubon and NRDC enter into a Settlement Agreement and Release requiring Texaco to pay $2,250,000 for Environmental Benefit Projects.

Environmental benefit projects include:

  • $1,075,000 to Delaware State Parks for reforestation planting, invasive species control, and installation of a remote camera and video display terminals at the Pea Patch Island Heronry.
  • $675,000 will be provided to Main Street Delaware City, Inc. to support several projects under their Eco-Tourism Program, including wetland restoration, reforestation, invasive species control, meadow management and signage and interpretation at Dragon Run Park, the Grassdale Center, and the Branch Canal. Funding also will be provided for program management and administration.
  • Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research will receive $100,000 toward construction of a new oil spill response and training facility.
  • Delaware City will receive $350,000 for use in the C&D/Branch Canal Connector project which will establish Delaware City as the trailhead for Congressman Castle's 14-mile C&D Canal Recreational Trail Project.
  • The Delaware Native Plant Society will receive $25,000 to repair their greenhouse, purchase plant stock, tools and equipment for greenhouse operations and tree planting programs.
  • The Delmarva Ornithological Society also will receive $25,000 to support their Ashland Hawk Watch Program and Osprey Nest Platform Project.