Rail expansion not welcomed by residents near Delaware City Refinery

A new rail expansion project at the Delaware City Refinery is receiving some backlash from state leaders and environmental groups.

Recently it was announced that there would be more rail going in to the facility as the owners, PBF Energy, begin purchasing crude oil from the mid-west and Canada rather than the Middle East.

Mike Karlovich, vice president of corporate communications for PBF, explained that the North American materials offer many benefits.

“Those crudes are considered to be land-locked, there’s no pipelines to bring them out, so they’re discounted,” explained Karlovich. “The crudes that we’re bringing in from North America are lower in cost versus buying the expensive crudes from overseas. It also keeps the revenue in North America.”

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By the end of this year, Delaware City Refinery plans to expand its rail operations to 200 crude oil cars a day or four trains with 50 cars each.

State representative Brian Townsend said he’d like to see more dialogue about how first responders can communicate with the trains so they know when to expect a blocked intersection.

At more than a mile long, the trains can take up to 10 minutes to clear an intersection, preventing EMS and firefighters from getting to emergencies as quickly as possible.

Many residents complained about the trains whistling, saying they can hear the noise at all hours of the night.

Representatives with Norfolk Southern, which operates the locomotives, noted that it’s a federal law for trains to blow their whistles at various points such as intersections to give notice for other vehicles or pedestrians to clear the intersection.

Residents also raised concerns about the health and environmental hazards of the materials being shipped in their backyard.

Norfolk Southern explained that they have a 99 percent safety record and work with local EMS for accident preparedness.

While officials didn’t get into specifics on how the train cars are secured from leaking hazardous materials during their travels, DCF did say the refinery itself is heavily regulated and follows all guidelines.

“Our industry is highly regulated from the well pump through to the gas pump and refineries are among the most highly regulated part because they’re the most complex so we work with DNREC, we have permits from DNREC, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” explained Mike Karlovich, vice president of corporate communication for PBF.

He also noted that before Valero shut down the operation in 2009, they invested half a billion dollars in new technology in the processing and environmental controls of the refinery.

“One of the last things Valero before they shut the refinery done was put in scrubbers and these help to minimize and almost but not quite eliminate particulate and other pollutants that go into the atmosphere,” explained Karlovich.

PBF also invested in approximately $600 million to make safety and environmental improvements to the facility before re-opening in 2011.

The company now employs more than 500 workers at the refinery and has an additional 500 contractors in the plant.  The Markell administration has sited saving the refinery as one of Delaware’s success stories during the recent recession.

The increase in rail activity will add about 100-150 jobs to the facility.

As the refinery investigates the concerns raised by the residents, Karlovich said they’re more than willing to work with the community and local leaders to resolve whatever issues they can.

“We’re working with local legislators, we’re working with various county and state agencies to try and minimize the impact of the increase rail on these lines,” said Karlovich. “Ultimately, we respect the community, that’s part of the reason we’re hear tonight, and we will try and do whatever we can to minimize the impact, whether its at grade crossing, that’s on the railroad, but inside the refinery we’ll look at some of the issues that we’re brought up tonight, including the noise.”

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