New York's Oil Spill Act, Article 12 of the New York Navigation Law, assigns strict liability to any person who has discharged petroleum, for all cleanup and removal costs associated with the cleanup of the petroleum, as well as all direct and indirect damages, such as attorney's fees. N.Y. Navigation Law (1). A discharge of petroleum, sufficient to incur liability under the Oil Spill Act, includes any intentional or unintentional action or omission resulting in a release of petroleum into water, or into soil from which the petroleum could flow or drain to water. NL 172(8). New York generally interprets any and all spills of petroleum onto soil as falling within the jurisdiction of the Oil Spill Act, without any demonstration that the petroleum will actually find its way to the waters nominally protected by the Act.
Could fracking in North Dakota's Bakken shale formation have a direct impact on New York State? Yes, but the impact isn't limited to prices at the gas pump or home energy heating bills. Instead, the fracking operations are leading to a surge in freight trains hauling crude oil along the state's rail lines to a terminal at the port of Albany, New York. Shale formations such as the Bakken produce crude oil along with natural gas during fracking operations, and some claim that Bakken crude may "more dangerous to ship by rail than crude from other areas."
Does the destruction of plaintiff's technical data supporting disclosed oil spill investigation reports get a defendant off the hook? Apparently not, decided the Appellate Division (Third Dept.) in a November 2012 decision, rejecting a defense motion to reverse a plaintiff's trial verdict. Defendants had received the reports themselves, without the backup technical data, but had not requested any of the data for nearly a year after the commencement of litigation, well after a document retention policy caused destruction of the backup data.
If you're familiar with the harsh reality of property owner liability under the New York State Navigation Law's Oil Spill Act, this headline shouldn't raise any eyebrows. However, the holding of State of New York v. C.J. Burth Services, Inc., 79 A.D.3d 1298, 915 N.Y.S.2d 174 (N.Y. App. 3rd Dep't 2010), once again confirms the Draconian nature of strict liability for property owners in Spill Act cases.
1. Any person who has discharged petroleum shall be strictly liable, without regard to fault, for all cleanup and removal costs and all direct and indirect damages, no matter by whom sustained, as defined in this section. In addition to cleanup and removal costs and damages, any such person who is notified of such release and who did not undertake relocation of persons residing in the area of the discharge in accordance with paragraph (c) of subdivision seven of section one hundred seventy-six of this article, shall be liable to the fund for an amount equal to two times the actual and necessary expense incurred by the fund for such relocation pursuant to section one hundred seventy-seven-a of this article. 2. The fund shall be strictly liable, without regard to fault, for all cleanup and removal costs and all direct and indirect damages, no matter by whom sustained, including, but not limited to:
N.Y. Navigation Law Sec. 172. Definitions Sections 1 - 6a