Lake Charles refinery hit with criminal charges

A Houston company that owns a refinery in Lake Charles, La. was charged today with criminal violations of federal anti-pollution laws and obstructing justice.

Prosecutors filed a three-count charge against Houston-based Pelican Refining Co. LLC, a company created by former Coastal Corp. CEO Oscar Wyatt and BayOil CEO David Chalmers in 2005.

The company is accused of operating the Pelican Refinery in Lake Charles without following requirements to prevent air pollution, including the release of potentially deadly hydrogen sulfide, in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

The felony counts also accuse the company of filing a false report with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

Pelican Refining faces up to $500,000 in fines for each count or up to twice the financial gain or loss to victims from the alleged violations.

A spokeswoman for Pelican said the company had no comment on the allegations at this time.

Federal authorities began an investigation of the facility in 2007 after state inspectors in 2006 discovered illegal releases of hydrogen sulfide, improperly repaired pollution monitoring and control equipment, oil stored in unrepaired tanks and the use of children’s plastic swimming pools to contain oil leaks. An investigation determined that the flare used by the refinery to burn off emissions was not working properly.

On July 6, Byron Hamilton, 55, who oversaw the refinery’s operations from Houston as president and general manager, pleaded guilty in Lafayette federal court to two misdemeanor endangerment charges under the federal Clean Air Act. He faces up to one year in prison and a $200,000 fine for each count.

In court filings, Hamilton acknowledged that the refinery had no environmental department and no environmental manager. He also said that the pollution control equipment was not working, poorly maintained or improperly calibrated.

The filing also said the refinery had been using a signal flare gun purchased at Walmart to relight the plant’s flare and a scrubber designed to remove hydrogen sulfide from emissions had been bypassed.

The criminal complaint against Pelican:

2011 Sept Information Filed Against Pelican Refining

Byron Hamilton’s admissions:

2011 Byron Hamilton Pelican Refinery Admissions

5 Comments

  1. Joe

    Looks like Lisa Jackson got the note from the pres.

    #1
  2. Mike H.

    A flare not working right is an invitation to a big disaster. What if unburned HVL’s, or heavier than air toxics, or flammable liquids, get sprayed every where? Think BP Texas City 2005, where a vent stack sprayed the area with light flammable liquids during an upset. 15 people got killed, dozens injured, and the start of “BP: Beyond Pathetic” jokes.

    I worked at an LED manufacturer, that had a burner/scrubber for the hydrogen & ammonia exhausted from the process. If the scrubber goes out for about 10 seconds, it shut everything down, to prevents explosions or poisonings. But, a refiner can run without a needed scrubber?

    #2
  3. Bill744

    And just think, Ron Paul would have us eliminate federal involvement and let this industry self-regulate. It would be up to consumers at the gas pump to punish the offending refineries. But he fails to explain how consumers would be informed or why those at the bottom of the economic ladder would pay extra for society’s safety. The industry would love his administration. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, eh?

    #3
  4. Mike H.

    Exxon saw little damage to it’s bottom line from public outrage over the Exxon Valdez. Consumers can’t really push safety & environment issues at the pump. Perry & Bachmann also want the industry to self regulate. Much of the Texas NOx air pollution reductions were from nationwide EPA mandates, not what Perry himself did.

    Wouldn’t it be funny if those kid’s plastic pools dissolved in the liquids they were using to catch spills with?

    #4
  5. Bill Fischer

    You gotta read this lawsuit. It is like a soap opera. Incredible. In one paragraph it says they operated without an active flare for 14 months. The pilots would blow out during wind storms so they would have to re-light it using a flare gun they purchased at WALMART!!!

    #5