BP to Pay $15 Million to Settle Texas City Refinery Pollution ChargesOct 1, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP
BP has agreed to pay a record fine to settle charges that its Texas City, Texas refinery violated the Clean Air Act. The $15 million settlement between BP, the US Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is subject to approval by the US District Court in Houston.
According to a press release from the Department of Justice, the settlement addresses violations stemming from two fires that occurred at the refinery in March 2004 and July 2005, and a leak that occurred in August 2005. During the three incidents, each of which resulted in the surrounding Texas City community being ordered to shelter-in-place, thousands of pounds of flammable and toxic air pollutants were released. The settlement also resolves allegations that BP failed to identify all regulated hazardous air pollutants used at the refinery in plans submitted to EPA.
The penalty is both the largest ever assessed for civil violations of the Clean Air Act’s chemical accident prevention regulations, also known as the risk management program regulations, and the largest civil penalty recovered for Clean Air Act violations at an individual facility, the Department of Justice said.
The violations covered by the settlement were discovered by the EPA during a series of inspections of the Texas City refinery initiated after a catastrophic explosion and fire in March 2005 that killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others.
“BP’s actions at the Texas City refinery have had terrible consequences for the people who work there and for those in nearby communities,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s settlement, in conjunction with other actions already taken by EPA and other federal agencies at Texas City, demonstrates the Agency’s continuing commitment to actively and vigorously working to hold BP accountable and to make them comply with our nation’s environmental protection laws wherever the company operates.”
Unfortunately, recent reports indicate that BP is still having issues at its Texas City refinery. We reported earlier this week that one local attorney recently alleged that a leak of hydrocarbons from the refinery’s Pipestill 3A unit poses an “extreme hazard” to people inside and outside the plant. Citing clients at the refinery, the lawyer asserted that the leak grew during the week and is now apparent to the naked eye, not just to monitoring equipment. While BP has called the attorney’s claims “inaccurate,” it hasn’t completely denied them.
Earlier this summer it was learned that a release of chemicals from the plant allowed 17,000 lbs of benzene – a known carcinogen – to leak into the air over a 40-day period between April and May. The incident began on April 6, when BP said a fire compromised a seal on an ultracracker’s hydrogen compressor. The malfunction forced the company to flare off gases. As it worked to fix the unit over the next 40 days, the plant released 538,000 pounds of pollutants into the air, BP told regulators.
BP reported the incident to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality the day after it happened. But information about the release wasn’t made public until BP submitted a final incident report to regulators June 4. Since the incident, people in the area have reportedly complained of allergic reactions, sinus infections, headaches, nosebleeds and other symptoms consistent with benzene exposure.
The EPA is currently investigating that incident. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has also filed suit over the chemical release, and is seeking fines up to $600,000.