Citgo Found Guilty of Environmental Crimes

Citgo Refining and Chemicals Co. was found guilty on July 17 of three misdemeanor criminal violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by a judge in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Various species of migratory ducks were killed after being coated with or ingesting oil as a result of landing in two open top tanks located at Citgo's Corpus Christi East Plant Refinery. From the air, the birds are attracted to the tanks, which appear to be ponds, and must be fitted with nets or other equipment to prevent the birds from entering or landing in the oil. The MBTA implements international treaties that protect birds migrating between countries and taking, killing or possessing migratory birds is unlawful, unless permitted by regulation.

Citgo Petroleum Corp. and its subsidiary Citgo Refining were each convicted on June 27, 2007 of two counts of violating the Clean Air Act by operating these same open top tanks without installing the proper emission controls required by federal law. The tanks were used as oil water separators but were not equipped with either a fixed-roof vented to a control device or a floating-roof as required by the CAA.

Citgo Petroleum and Citgo Refining and its environmental manager were originally indicted by a federal grand jury on Aug. 9, 2006. The indictment contains four felony counts of violations of the CAA against Citgo Petroleum and Citgo Refining, five misdemeanor counts of violations of the MBTA against Citgo Refining and Philip Vrazel; and one felony count of false statements against Citgo Petroleum, Citgo Refining and Philip Vrazel. The court has yet to determine whether the government will be able to go forward on the false statement charge.

Environmental manager Philip Vrazel was acquitted on five counts of violating the MBTA.

Sentencing of Citgo Petroleum and Citgo Refining is scheduled for Oct. 18, 2007 for the CAA and the MBTA convictions. Each violation of the MBTA is punishable by up to six months in jail and fines up to $15,000 per bird. For the CAA violations, the company also faces fines of up to $500,000 per count or twice the gross economic gain (whichever is greater) and five years of probation.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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