The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that, together with the Justice Department, the states of Louisiana and Delaware and the Northwest Air Pollution Authority, it has concluded a deal with three petroleum refiners that will reduce air emissions from nine refineries by over 60,000 tonnes per year. The agreements with Equilon Enterprises, Motiva Enterprises and Deer Park Refining Limited Partnership will affect petroleum refineries located in Delaware, Louisiana, Texas, California, and Washington.

These settlements are part of an effort to reduce harmful air pollution released illegally from petroleum refineries and resolve alleged violations of federal and state hazardous waste and toxics laws at Motiva’s Convent, Louisana, and Port Arthur, Texas, refineries and the Deer Park, Texas refinery. Consent decrees filed in Houston’s federal court call for the companies to spend an estimated $400 million to install up-to-date pollution-control equipment and significantly reduce emissions from process units, wastewater vents, leaking valves, and flares throughout the refineries.

The three company alliance, which is the second-largest domestic refiner, with a combined capacity of 1.4 million barrels a day, will also collectively pay a $9.5 million fine under the Clean Air Act and spend about $5.5 million on environmental projects in communities affected by the refineries’ pollution.

The refiners will cut nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide emissions from the nine refineries by more than 60,000 tons a year by using “innovative technologies”, the EPA says. Improved leak detection and repair practices and other pollution-control upgrades will significantly reduce emissions of smog-causing volatile organic compounds and benzene, a known carcinogen. The agreements will also benefit workers and local communities by including improved safety measures to reduce the risk of accidental release of pollutants.

Investigations have shown that many petroleum refiners have made major modifications to their facilities, increasing capacity and air emissions, without installing the pollution control equipment required by the law but many refiners are illegally flaring acid gases and are failing to minimise ‘fugitive’ emissions throughout their facilities, says the EPA. The combined state and federal government’s settlements with petroleum refiners provide for a comprehensive, cooperative approach to addressing these environmental problems across the industry, it adds.

“This settlement provides Americans with cleaner, healthier air, and it protects our precious environment by reducing significant amounts of harmful air pollutants,” commented EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. “We commend Motiva, Equilon, and Deer Park for taking the initiative to resolve their environmental problems cooperatively and quickly. We hope other companies will follow their lead.”

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