BEAUMONT — A Port Arthur refinery has agreed to implement innovative technologies to control harmful air pollution from industrial flares and leaking equipment while also paying a $350,000 fine for multiple violations of the Clean Air Act.
The agreement between Flint Hills Resources in Port Arthur and the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is part of EPA’s national effort to advance environmental justice by protecting communities like Port Arthur that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution.
According to information from the Department of Justice, once fully implemented, EPA estimates that the settlement will reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including benzene and other hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), by an estimated 1,880 tons per year, and will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by approximately 69,000 tons per year.
“This agreement reflects the Justice Department’s and the EPA’s commitment to alleviate the environmental and human health challenges faced by vulnerable communities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement will mean cleaner, healthier air for residents of the Port Arthur area who continue to bear a disproportionate burden from the impacts of industrial pollution.”
The settlement requires Flint Hills to operate state of the art equipment to recover and recycle waste gases and to ensure that gases sent to flares are burned with 98 percent efficiency. The company has spent approximately $16 million to implement these required controls on industrial flares.
When the agreement is fully implemented, the company is estimated to spend $28 million to reduce “fugitive” pollutant emissions that may leak from valves, pumps, and other equipment. The company must monitor leaks more frequently, implement more aggressive repair practices, adopt innovative new practices designed to prevent leaks and replace valves with new “low emissions” valves or use packing material to reduce leaks, according to the DOJ.
To further mitigate pollution impacting the community, the company will spend $2 million on a diesel retrofit or replacement project that is estimated to reduce nitrogen oxides and particulate matter by a combined 85 tons, in addition to 39 tons of carbon monoxide, over the next 15 years. The company will also spend $350,000 to purchase and install technologies to reduce energy demand in low income homes.
For the past several years, Flint Hills has operated a system to monitor the ambient levels of the hazardous air pollutants benzene and 1,3-butadiene at the boundaries of the facility, also known as the “fence line.” The company has used the information collected to identify and reduce potential pollutant sources for communities living near the facility.
In this settlement, Flint Hills has agreed to make its fence line monitoring data available online to the public.
“Communities like Port Arthur are a focus of our enforcement efforts as they have been hit hard by air pollution,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “By working with EPA, Flint Hills has advanced new air pollution controls that will help EPA bring similar air quality improvements to other American communities. EPA will continue to focus on tough pollution controls and cutting edge technologies in order to reduce the burden of air pollution on Americans who need it most.”
The complaint, filed by DOJ on behalf of EPA at the same time as the settlement, alleges that the company improperly operated its steam-assisted flaring devices in a way that emitted excess amounts of VOCs, including benzene and other hazardous air pollutants. It also alleges violations of EPA regulations designed to limit emissions from leaking equipment.
The measures required by the settlement will cut emissions of pollutants that can cause significant harm to public health. VOCs are a key component in the formation of smog or ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Chronic exposure to benzene, which EPA classifies as a carcinogen, can cause numerous health impacts, including leukemia and adverse reproductive effects in women.
Today’s settlement is part of EPA’s national effort to reduce emissions of toxic air pollutants, with a particular focus on industrial flares and leaks from equipment. Improper operation of an industrial flare can emit hundreds of tons of hazardous pollutants into the air. EPA encourages companies to flare less, and when they do flare, to fully burn the harmful chemicals found in the waste gas.
Flint Hills’ plant in Port Arthur manufactures chemicals that are used in a variety of products, including medical devices, automotive parts and appliance components. The Port Arthur facility has the capacity to produce nearly 1.4 billion pounds of ethylene and 700 million pounds of propylene annually.
The consent decree, lodged in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval. The consent decree will be available for viewing at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.