More fish killed at Delaware City Refinery than at fisheries
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 02:10
Along the white rails that line the docks of the Delaware City pier, fishermen relax and enjoy the weather on the first of October. Occasionally, one reels in a weakfish or striped bass, but, more often than not, those fish are thrown back.
Fishing is regulated––there are size limits and catch limits––and no fisherman wants to be slapped with a fine for disregarding them.
A few miles north in Trenton, N.J., along the banks of the same river, members of the environmental group the Delaware Riverkeeper Network gather for a press event last Monday where they filed a writ of mandamus. This was to order Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to issue a water intake permit for the Delaware City Refinery––something that has not been done since its current permit expired in 2002.
Amy Roe, conservation chair of the Delaware Sierra Club, said fishing limits and the Delaware City Refinery’s water intake permit are not as unrelated as they might seem.
“The refinery has, essentially, an unrestricted fishing license,” Roe said. “It is a major predator in the Delaware River.”
What she is referring to is the over 45 million fish, larvae and eggs that are killed each year when the refinery’s water intake system either slams the bigger fish against its intake screen or takes in juveniles, larvae and eggs into the refinery’s cooling structures.
Forty-five million fish is more than Delaware’s commercial and recreational harvest combined, Dave Carter, conservation chair of the Delaware Audubon Society, said. A report by Normandeau Associates, an independent firm, estimates around 25 million striped bass juveniles––the most valuable fish produced by the Delaware River––were killed by the refinery between 1998 and 1999.
The estimated loss to Delaware fisheries in 1998 was 12,872 adult striped bass, amounting to over 60 percent of the average Delaware bass harvest of around 20,000 fish, according to the report by Normandeau Associates. Roe said if any fisherman takes in one fish over the limit he gets fined, but the refinery is currently allowed to take in fish without restriction.
The refinery kills all of these fish through a cooling system which has not been significantly updated since its opening in 1957, Roe said. The refinery extracts up to 303 million gallons of water each day for its cooling system and in the process, fish get caught in the water intake channel and killed either against the intake screens or in the cooling system itself.
According to DNREC, there is a less environmentally disruptive way the cooling system could be structured. A closed-loop cooling system using cooling towers wouldn’t require the extraction of such vast quantities of water. The system would be costly to install, but would reduce fish mortalities by 90 percent, according to the DNREC Best Technology Available Determination.
Additionally, the installation of a closed loop system or equivalent technology is required by federal legislation. According to section 316(b) of the federal Clean Water Act, the primary law governing water pollution in the United States, requires that the location, design, construction and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact.