An attempt by US energy giant ExxonMobil to curtail its connection with damaged resources opposite the sites of its refinery and petrochemical operations has been quashed.
State Superior Court judge denied ExxonMobil's attempt to prevent the state from recovering damages associated with natural resources that ExxonMobil argued were privately owned and therefore no longer part of the public trust.
The case pertains to natural resources Exxon damaged or destroyed during nearly a century of the company's operations in Linden and Bayonne in New Jersey.
The natural resources are located on or adjacent to former ExxonMobil property. However, Judge Ross Anzaldi ruled that the state has a right, as a public trustee, to seek damages regardless of a lack of property ownership.
The judge reaffirmed both the breadth of the state's Spill Compensation and Control Act and the use of discretion by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in seeking damages from ExxonMobil. He ruled that any lands that have been contaminated as a result of actions by Exxon or its predecessors could be subject to damages as outlined by a state appeals court under the Spill Act.
In September 2008, the court found ExxonMobil had caused a public nuisance by polluting waterways, wetlands and marshes on and near its former refinery sites in Bayonne and Linden. Subsequently, ExxonMobil filed a motion arguing that DEP's claims for damages linked to the Bayonne and Linden refineries were a radical, far-reaching extension of its powers and authority.
ExxonMobil and its corporate predecessors operated petroleum refineries and petrochemical manufacturing and storage facilities at the 1,300-acre Linden Exxon Bayway site and the 288-acre Exxon Bayonne location since the early 1900s. Between 1909 and 1972, the two refineries were interconnected by pipeline and typically operated as a single, integrated refinery and petrochemical facility.
Throughout the decades of operation, the facilities discharged hazardous substances into the soil and groundwater both on and underneath the Linden and Bayonne properties.
The Exxon Bayway property is contaminated with benzene and other petroleum hydrocarbons. Hazardous substances from the Bayway plant are also present in surface water and wetlands on and adjacent to the site.
The Exxon Bayonne facility operated through 1972 as a site for petroleum refining. Since then, it has been used principally as a storage location for petroleum products, a wholesale distribution facility, and as a manufacturing site for oil additives. Contamination at the property includes a variety of petroleum-product-related pollutants.
Both the Linden and Bayonne refinery properties are subject to administrative consent orders for site remediation entered into between ExxonMobil and DEP in 1991, and clean-up work continues at both properties. The consent order did not, however, limit or preclude the state from pursuing legal claims for natural resource damages.