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