Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Citgo Must Pay $143M for a Delaware River Oil Spill, Supreme Court Orders

Business
Citgo Must Pay $143M for a Delaware River Oil Spill, Supreme Court Orders
The Athos I tanker was carrying crude oil from Venezuela when a collision caused oil to begin gushing into the Delaware River. U.S. Department of the Interior

A case that has bounced around the lower courts for 13 years was finally settled yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision, finding oil giant Citgo liable for a clean up of a 2004 oil spill in the Delaware River, according to Reuters.


The spill stemmed from a collision that the Athos I tanker had with an abandoned and submerged anchor as the ship was approaching a Philadelphia-area refinery in New Jersey. The collision pierced the hull, leading to the release of 264,000 gallons of heavy crude oil, according to court documents, as The Hill reported.

When the spill happened, the owner of the boat Frescati Shipping Company, along with the U.S. government paid $133 million for the cleanup, but the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 allows the government to recoup funds from liable parties after the fact. That spurred a lawsuit over the language in the contract when Frescati and the government sued Citgo to recover what they spent, according to Courthouse News.

The court ruled 7-2 yesterday that Citgo and others are responsible for cleanup costs. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said a "safe-berth" clause in the charter contract should be interpreted as a safety warranty, meaning Citgo and the others who commissioned the ship had to make sure the tanker docked safely, according to The Hill.

The port in Paulsboro, New Jersey was controlled by three Citgo companies — Citgo Asphalt Refining Company, Citgo Petroleum Corporation, and Citgo East Coast Oil Corporation. The three companies chartered the oil tanker, according to Courthouse News.

Citgo argued before the Supreme Court that it had done its due diligence by selecting a known safe harbor for the ship to dock. That became a sticking point during oral arguments as Justice Elena Kagan said the case should not be decided what CITGO thinks would be "sensible," according to Bloomberg Environment.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that many contracts between shipping companies and companies that charter their boats have very loose and vague language. However, this contract had much stricter language written into it, requiring CITGO to "designate and procure" a safe berth.

"You either did or you didn't," Chief Justice John Roberts said in oral arguments, as Bloomberg Environment reported.

The majority rejected Citgo's assertion that ship captains had a duty to analyze the chartered route accept it based on safety, according to Courthouse News.

"[I]t strains common sense to insist (as the dissent does) that the vessel master implicitly has a separate, dueling obligation regarding the safety of berth, when the clause explicitly assigns that responsibility to the charterer," Sotomayor wrote in the majority opinion.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were the two dissenters.

According to Bloomberg Environment, "The ruling clarifies liability for future oil spills and other maritime accidents, resolving a dispute over contract language."

A seagull flies in front of the Rampion offshore wind farm in the United Kingdom. Neil / CC BY 2.0

By Tara Lohan

A key part of the United States' clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton

Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Kevin Maillefer / Unsplash

By Lynne Peeples

Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.

In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.

Read More Show Less
Eat Just's cell-based chicken nugget is now served at Singapore restaurant 1880. Eat Just, Inc.

At a time of impending global food scarcity, cell-based meats and seafood have been heralded as the future of food.

Read More Show Less
New Zealand sea lions are an endangered species and one of the rarest species of sea lions in the world. Art Wolfe / Photodisc / Getty Images

One city in New Zealand knows what its priorities are.

Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island, has closed a popular road to protect a mother sea lion and her pup, The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less