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Press Release

Duke Energy to Plead Guilty to Clean Water Act Crime and Pay $1M Fine for 2014 Oil Spill

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Ohio

CINCINNATI – Representatives of Duke Energy Beckjord LLC agreed to plead guilty today in federal court to negligent discharge of oil, in violation of the Clean Water Act. The filed plea agreement includes a $1 million fine in addition to restitution.


Benjamin C. Glassman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, John K. Gauthier, Acting Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criminal enforcement program, Craig W. Butler, Director, Ohio EPA, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Captain Michael B. Zamperini, Commander, Sector Ohio Valley, U.S. Coast Guard announced the plea and sentence to take place in U.S. District Court today.


According to court documents, on August 18, 2014, Duke Energy caused a spill of approximately 9,000 gallons of diesel fuel from its Walter C. Beckjord generating station facility in New Richmond, Ohio to the Ohio River. The oil sheen on the Ohio River from the discharge extended for approximately 15 miles.


A Duke Energy operator transferring fuel from three 705,000-gallon capacity tanks ran the forwarding pump too long and over-filled the two 30,000-gallon capacity above-ground fuel tanks. Diesel fuel spilled from the tank overfill vents into a concrete secondary containment area. A valve on the secondary containment area had been improperly left open by other Duke employees, causing the spilled diesel fuel to escape the containment area and enter directly into the Ohio River.

The Ohio River is a source of drinking water for residents of both Kentucky and Ohio. As a result of the spill, the Northern Kentucky, Greater Cincinnati and Louisville water supply intakes were closed on August 19, 2014. Water intakes were reopened the next day, after water samples did not detect the diesel fuel in the drinking water.

Significant resources were expended by at least 35 government and private sector agencies in the emergency response and clean-up related to the discharge. Duke Energy’s prompt clean-up efforts resulted in the recovery of only a small portion of the discharged oil. To date, Duke Energy has reimbursed more than $1.2 million to those entities for costs incurred in connection with the spill. Further, Duke Energy has deconstructed the bulk fuel oil storage tanks involved in the spill and no longer stores bulk fuel oil at the Beckjord facility.


As part of the plea agreement, Duke Energy has agreed to also pay $100,000 to the Foundation for Ohio River Education, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the cultural, ecological and economic value of the Ohio River through community education.  Duke Energy will also issue a written public apology in an advertisement published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.


“We will continue to take environmental violations seriously to ensure the safest living conditions for the residents of our District,” U.S. Attorney Glassman said.


“This case underscores the need for companies to have proper measures in place to prevent and respond to fuel spills so they don't impact our water resources," said John K. Gauthier, Acting Special Agent in Charge of EPA's criminal enforcement program in Ohio. "Had Duke Beckjord, LLC taken measures to ensure that valves were closed to contain fuel spills, this incident would not have occurred. Their lack of these measures resulted in a large fuel spill to the Ohio River which required substantial environmental response efforts.”


“This unfortunate incident risked the drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people. Simply following required procedures would have prevented this incident,” Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler said. “Today’s announcement should be a call to action for everyone along the river to be diligent about protecting this vital resource – the Ohio River.”


“This contribution will not only help get over 4,000 students on the Ohio River conducting water monitoring through our River REACH floating classroom program, but will also provide teachers hands-on training and materials that can be used in the classroom and at local streams,” said Heather Mayfield, Director of Foundation for Ohio River Education. “We are so glad that FORE can be a silver lining in this agreement and look forward to supporting Duke’s commitment to STEM education and water quality through our award-winning program.”


U.S. Attorney Glassman commended the cooperative investigation by the U.S. EPA, Ohio EPA, Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation Environmental Enforcement Unit and the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as Assistant United States Attorney Kyle J. Healey who is representing the United States in this case. 

Updated November 23, 2016