Department of Justice Seal



MONDAY, MARCH 15, 1999

(202) 514-2007


TDD (202) 514-1888

Company To Also Pay $1.75M To Settle Environmental Charges

WASHINGTON, D.C. - BP Oil Company's Toledo refinery will monitor, report and correct process operations that result in the flaring, or combustion, of gases containing high levels of air pollutants under a first-of-its-kind settlement filed today in federal district court in Toledo, Ohio. The settlement also requires the company to pay $1.75 million for its alleged illegal discharges of pollutants and reporting violations, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced.

The agreement resolves claims that BP violated the Clean Air Act (CAA) by emitting excess quantities of sulfur dioxide by unlawfully flaring gases containing high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide. Flaring is a high-temperature oxidation process used to burn combustible components of gases produced by refining operations. The flaring addressed in today's settlement involves the combustion of gases containing high levels of hydrogen sulfide when the flaring is not caused by malfunctions. Sulfur dioxide emissions from flares are released directly into the atmosphere and contribute to acid rain.

The agreement also resolves claims that BP violated the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act by failing to immediately notify emergency response authorities when air pollutants, such as hydrogen sulfide, were emitted.

"Flaring at a refinery can result in extremely high concentrations of air pollution emissions in very short periods of time," said Steven A. Herman, Assistant Administrator for Enforcement at U.S. EPA. "This action serves notice to refineries nationwide that if they divert gases away from pollution control equipment or fail to have pollution control equipment available on a continuous basis, they do so at the peril of facing enforcement actions."

Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said, "Today's settlement serves as a warning to the petroleum industry that there is no excuse for illegal flaring activities. The environmental damage from illegal flaring is evident. Proper operational and maintenance procedures are available to avoid illegal emissions."

Under the agreement, the company will be the first in the United States under a court order to monitor the occurrence of flaring, report to EPA each time an incident occurs, and take corrective actions to reduce the likelihood of such incidents. The agreement also sets up a process to determine which flaring incidents result from legitimate malfunctions and which do not.

BP must also pay a civil penalty of $1.4 million and spend $350,000 on two supplemental environmental projects. The first requires BP to spend $150,000 on an emergency response telephone notification system for Lucas County, Ohio. With this system, the county will be able to dial thousands of telephone numbers per hour to alert residents of environmental, fire and other emergencies. The second supplemental environmental project requires BP to spend $200,000 for an upgraded radio and paging system for the Oregon [OH] Fire Department, which serves BP's Toledo refinery.

The settlement is designed to ensure that BP's current expansion project at its Toledo refinery does not adversely impact the environment of the community. The company must assure that its current sulfur recovery unit and two sulfur recovery units that it is installing as part of the expansion project operate in a manner that limits the release of sulfur dioxide to levels allowed under the CAA and BP's air permits. At high concentrations, sulfur dioxide can affect human health, especially among asthmatics, and can harm vegetation and metals. It also can impair visibility and kill fish and water plants by acidifying lakes and streams.

The EPA for several years has targeted the petroleum refinery sector for enforcement actions because of the high volume of emissions from refineries of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which lead to ozone formation, and sulfur dioxide. Today's settlement with BP marks the fourth major settlement with a petroleum refinery in the past six months. In September, Attorney General Janet Reno and EPA Administrator Carol Browner announced a multi-million dollar settlement with Shell Oil Company as a result of Shell's illegal operations at its Wood River Facility in Roxana, Ill. Also in September, the Department of Justice and EPA resolved an action against Navajo Refining Company for illegal waste disposal practices at its facility in Artesia, NM. And in October, Ashland Oil Company agreed to spend more than $32 million to correct environmental problems at its facilities in Canton, Ohio, Catlettsburg, Ky., and St. Paul Park, Minn.

A proposed notice of the BP settlement will be published in the Federal Register. The settlement must receive final approval by the federal court in Toledo.