Pepco fined in Patuxent oil spill

Utility and ST Services to pay $1.95 million in settlement with state

August 29, 2002|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The State of Maryland has fined Potomac Electric Power Co. and Support Terminal Services almost $2 million in civil penalties for an April 2000 oil spill on the Patuxent River that fouled 80 acres of wetlands and shoreline and killed thousands of fish and wildlife.

In the settlement agreement, announced yesterday by the Maryland Department of the Environment, Pepco will pay the state $950,000, and ST Services, which operated the 52-mile pipeline for Pepco, will pay $1 million.

The spill released 140,400 gallons of fuel oil into Swanson Creek.

The money is to be placed in the state's oil and clean water funds, and a portion of it may be used for future wetlands restoration.

The fine is apart from a $674,000 penalty against Pepco proposed by the federal Office of Pipeline Safety and a $2.7 million state and federal assessment of damages done to the environment.

"This action resolves violations of state environmental laws that occurred as a result of this horrendous incident," Gov. Parris N. Glendening said in a written statement.

"The money collected from this settlement will go a long way toward ensuring that potential oil spills of significant magnitude in the state are prevented, saving our precious natural waterways from harm.

"It should also send a clear message that those responsible for catastrophic environmental occurrences will be held fully accountable for their actions," the governor said.

At the time of the spill, Pepco owned the pipeline that crosses Charles, St. Mary's and Prince George's counties. Pepco sold the pipeline to Mirant Piney Point LLC in December 2000.

In July, a National Transportation Safety Board report determined that a fracture in a buckle probably caused the leak in the Southern Maryland pipeline.

The NTSB report also said that inaccurate readings of equipment data and inadequate operating procedures and practices for monitoring the flow of fuel oil through the pipeline also contributed to the problem. As a result, the leak wasn't detected for several hours.

"This was an unfortunate accident for which Pepco has taken responsibility from the beginning," said Robert Dobkin, a Pepco spokesman. "One of the major issues in the spill was that some people said we underreported the original amount of the spill. We did no such thing. We reported the information we had at the time. ... There was never an attempt to hide the extent of the spill."

In reaching the settlements, the Department of the Environment used for the first time a section of law that authorizes civil penalties of up to $100 per gallon of oil discharged in spills exceeding 25,000 gallons.

MDE spokesman Richard McIntire said the punitive damage does not include a $2.7 million figure placed on damage to 76 acres of wetlands and 10 acres of shoreline and the loss of thousands of fish and shellfish, diamondback terrapins and nearly 1,000 birds, including ducks.

Dobkin said Pepco has already spent more than $70 million to clean up and restore the property and waterways affected by the spill.

"We have made considerable progress in restoring the environment and remain committed to restoration of the affected areas," Dobkin said. "We're committed to the end."

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