Texas Refinery to Spend About $40 Million to Resolve Air Pollution Violations

Total Petrochemical USA Inc. (Total) will pay a $2.9 million penalty to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and EPA announced on April 30.

Total also will upgrade pollution controls, estimated to cost $37 million, at its Port Arthur, Texas, refinery. Once fully completed, the measures will reduce annual emissions of nitrogen oxides by more than 180 tons, sulfur dioxide by more than 800 tons and carbon monoxide by more than 120 tons.

The company agreed to upgrade leak detection and repair practices and to implement programs to minimize the flaring of hazardous gases, which can cause serious respiratory problems and exacerbate asthma. Total also will adopt strategies to ensure the proper handling of benzene wastewater, a byproduct of processing operations at the refinery.

"This settlement shows a commitment by Total to significantly reduce the emissions that can have serious health effects," said Matthew J. McKeown, acting assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are committed to enforcing the laws that protect the environment and public health, in an effort to continue bringing the refinery industry into compliance."

The measures Total is taking will significantly reduce emissions generated by flaring -- the process by which byproduct-gas from the refining process is burned-off in a flaring device. Under the settlement, penalties will apply to the future flaring of both acid gas and hydrocarbon gases that contain hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide. This settlement, part of EPA's national effort to reduce air emissions from refineries, is the first refinery settlement to include fixed penalties for the flaring of hydrocarbon gases.

The settlement also includes a supplemental environmental project that requires the company to test new infrared camera technology to detect equipment leaks. These equipment leaks may contain emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone and smog. Infrared leak-detection cameras are state-of- the-art technology to allow faster detection of equipment leaks.

The agreement, lodged in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. A copy of the consent decree is available on DOJ's Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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