WASHINGTON – Sinclair Tulsa Refining Company, a subsidiary of major oil and gasoline producer Sinclair Oil, has pleaded guilty today to two felony counts of deliberately manipulating wastewater discharges at its Tulsa Refinery in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA). In addition, two company managers, Harmon Connell and John Kapura, have each pleaded guilty to one felony count of violating the CWA, related to the manipulation of discharges into waters of the United States.
Sinclair, and managers Kapura and Connell, admitted today to knowingly manipulating the refinery processes, wastewater flows, and wastewater discharges to result in unrepresentative wastewater samplings during mandatory testing required under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. The manipulated samplings were intended to influence analytical testing results reported to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Our ability to protect our Nation’s rivers from the harmful effects of pollution depends upon the honesty of facilities that receive discharge permits under the Clean Water Act,” said Sue Ellen Wooldridge Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “When companies deliberately manipulate the tests that report the level of pollutants they discharge into public waters, we will not hesitate to prosecute them.”
“Sinclair had the capability to comply with environmental regulations, but chose to violate federal law simply to save money. The defendants viewed repeated violations as nothing more than ‘doing business.’” said Granta Y. Nakayama, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The guilty pleas of Sinclair and its refinery managers send a clear message: neither EPA, the Department of Justice, nor the Oklahoma attorney general’s office will tolerate environmental misconduct and we will continue to deter such disregard of pollution laws by vigorously pursuing not only corporations, but also the culpable individuals throughout the organization.”
“The investigators and agencies who worked on this case are to be commended for their tireless commitment to Oklahoma’s natural resources,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson. “Water quality has long been a priority in the attorney general’s office, and we will continue the diligent enforcement of our state’s environmental laws.”
Under the agreement, Sinclair has agreed to pay a criminal penalty of $5 million and a community service payment of $500,000 to be paid into an environmental fund, to be identified at a later date. Connell and Kapura each face a maximum penalty of three years in prison, up to a term of one year of supervised release, and a penalty to be determined by the court. Sentencing is scheduled for April 2, 2007.
According to the criminal information and plea agreement, filed today in the Northern District of Oklahoma, between January 2000 and March 2004, the Sinclair refinery discharged an average of 1.1 million gallons of treated wastewater per day into the Arkansas River. Under the CWA, Sinclair was permitted to discharge treated wastewater into the Arkansas River, pursuant to certain limitations and conditions, which include scheduled monitoring and required sampling during weekdays. According to the information, on numerous occasions in 2002 and 2003, Sinclair directed employees to limit wastewater discharges with high concentrations of oil and grease to manipulate the result of required bio-testing. During monitoring periods, Sinclair, by way of its employees, reduced flow rates of wastewater discharges to the river, and diverted more heavily contaminated wastewater to holding impoundments, among other means of ensuring that they had passed the tests.
The case was jointly investigated by the EPA and the Oklahoma attorney general’s office as part of the Oklahoma Environmental Crimes Task Force. It is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Division.