Refineries operated by two oil companies violated the Clean Air Act in two major U.S. cities and near Native lands in five states at various times since 2001.
Those companies – Tesoro and Par Hawaii Refining – will invest a total of $425 million on pollution controls and local environmental projects, according to a settlement reached on July 18 with the U.S. Justice Department and the EPA. The settlement, also known as a consent decree, is subject to public comment through August 22.
Tesoro will also pay a $10.45 million civil penalty, to be shared by the United States, the states of Alaska and Hawaii, and the Northwest Clean Air Agency.
“This settlement, achieved in partnership with states, will benefit the air quality in communities across the Western United States,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General John C. Cruden said in an announcement of the decree. “It uses cutting edge technology to address global environmental issues like climate change by controlling flaring and provides important reductions of harmful air pollution in communities facing environmental and health challenges.”
The Justice Department and EPA claim that emissions exceeded Clean Air Act standards at Tesoro’s refineries in Kenai, Alaska; Martinez, California; Mandan, North Dakota; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Anacortes, Washington; and at Par Hawaii’s refinery in Kapolei, Hawaii. The parent corporation of Par Hawaii Refining purchased the Kapolei refinery from Tesoro in 2013.
Ironically, Tesoro’s five above-mentioned refineries received industry awards for safety performance or chemical transportation safety in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
Kenai is the historical territory of the Dena’ina, Yu’pik and other First Peoples of Alaska. Mandan is located on the Missouri River, roughly midway between the reservations of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians reservation is 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The refinery in Anacortes is within view of the Samish Nation’s Fidalgo Bay Resort and the Swinomish Tribe’s reservation. Kapolei has a large Native Hawaiian population.
Once the pollution controls are in place, the Justice Department and EPA predict annual emissions reductions at the six refineries will total an estimated 47,034 tons of carbon dioxide, 1,140 tons of volatile organic compounds, 773 tons of sulfur dioxide, 407 tons of nitrogen oxides, 27 tons of hazardous air pollutants, and 20 tons of hydrogen sulfide.
“A large number of the emissions reductions will occur in areas with impaired air quality and protect populations at risk for respiratory illnesses,” according to EPA. “In particular, this settlement will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from flaring at the subject refineries by over 60 percent.”
According to the settlement, all six refineries had inadequate controls for leak detection and violated various maintenance and repair standards.
“Refineries process crude oil into products like gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, jet fuel, asphalt and liquefied petroleum gas and emit pollutants from a number of different sources,” EPA reported. “At the refineries subject to this settlement, fluid catalytic cracking units, sulfuric acid plants, heaters, boilers and sulfur recovery units, are substantial emitters of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Flaring results in emissions of SO2, greenhouse gases and toxic air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants. Fugitive emissions of VOCs result from leaking valves and pumps and can result in numerous health effects, including eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea and damage to liver, kidney and the central nervous system, among other effects.
“Leaks, flares, and excess emissions from refineries emit hazardous air pollutants, or air toxics, that are known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, and seriously impact the environment. SO2 and NOx have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog and haze. Refineries also emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, as well as fugitive VOCs.”
According to the settlement, Tesoro will use infrared gas-imaging cameras at four refineries to supplement the company’s enhanced leak detection and repair program. These cameras are able to locate fugitive VOC emissions that may not be otherwise detected, according to EPA. Tesoro will install ultra-low NOx burners on a furnace at its Salt Lake City refinery.
In addition, Tesoro will pay for outside auditing of compliance with the enhanced leak detection and repair requirements at all six facilities, and will contribute $1 million to fund the replacement of old diesel school buses in Contra Costa County, California, with new buses that are powered by compressed natural gas.
Pollution and crude by rail
Tesoro’s Anacortes refinery is one of two on a point of land that juts out into waters that are both a state-designated aquatic reserve and a federally-designated national estuarine research reserve. The Swinomish Tribe has had issues with both refineries.
Tesoro receives rail shipments of Bakken crude oil via tracks that cross Swinomish land. Swinomish has asked a federal court to stop Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s shipments, saying the number of rail cars is four times the number allowed in a 1991 easement granted to BNSF by Swinomish.
The other refinery, owned by Shell, was fined $77,000 in November 2015 by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries for an uncontrolled release of toxins that sickened residents and sent at least two people to the hospital.
Shell also wants to bring Bakken shale crude from North Dakota and Montana into the refinery by rail. Shell’s proposal is undergoing an environmental impact review.
Swinomish vs. BNSF: In U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Judge Robert S. Lasnik, case No. 2:15-cv-00543-RSL.
Tesoro and Par Hawaii Refining consent decree.