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U.S. v. Motiva Enterprises LLC, et al. (D. Del.)
Close up photo of a Motiva tank collapsed.  The incident killed a contractor.  Courtesy of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act

The worst industrial accident in history took place in Bhopal, India, in December 1984. Gaseous methyl isocyanate leaking from an insecticide-manufacturing plant owned by a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation killed and injured thousands of people. In response to the Bhopal disaster Congress passed Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act, authorizing the United States to sue industries that fail to design and maintain safe facilities.


Under the authority of CAA Section 112(r), the Environmental Enforcement Section brings civil actions against those responsible for unsafe industrial practices that threaten the public health and environment. On July 17, 2001, a sulfuric-acid storage tank at Motiva Enterprise’s Delaware City oil refinery exploded and caught fire. One worker died, several others were injured, and 100,000 gallons of acid spilled into the Delaware River, killing an estimated 2,400 fish. The United States and the State of Delaware sued Motiva Enterprises (a joint venture of Shell Oil Company and Saudi Refining) under Section 112(r) and the Clean Water Act. The governments alleged that the tank’s explosion-prevention system was badly designed, that Motiva failed to inspect the tank thoroughly, and that Motiva continued to use the tank after corrosion created holes in the tank. The settlement of that action was valued at over $23 million, and included:

  • a $12-million civil penalty;

  • $7.5 million in injunctive relief;

  • cash expenditures of nearly $4.0 million on environmental projects; and

  • the placing of 285 acres under a conservation easement.

(Motiva also pleaded no contest to criminal charges under the CWA and paid a $10-million criminal fine.)


Last Updated: November 2010