Tesoro To Pay $27.5 Million for Violating Previous Court Order Requiring it To Reduce Air Pollution at Its Martinez, CA Refinery

May 01, 2023
The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company will pay a $27.5 million penalty for violating a 2016 consent decree ordering the company to reduce air pollution at its petroleum refinery in Martinez, California. In particular, according to today’s settlement, Tesoro failed to limit air emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX), a pollutant that contributes to smog.
The settlement requires Tesoro to adhere to strict pollution controls at the facility. The facility is currently undergoing conversion into a renewable fuels plant, which will use renewable sources such as vegetable oils to produce fuels instead of crude oil. The settlement also sets up a framework for additional pollutant reductions, including significant climate co-benefits. Specifically, the settlement requires Tesoro to forego hundreds of annual emission credits that it could otherwise sell to area sources who could then increase their emissions.
“Today, we are holding Tesoro accountable for its failure to implement court-ordered pollution controls,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement requires Tesoro to forfeit substantially more air emission credits than the excess emissions associated with its violations, resulting in cleaner air for those who live and work in the San Francisco area.”
“Tesoro did not meet the consent decree pollution limit because it did not install adequate pollution controls,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “As this settlement shows, EPA will seek substantial penalties when companies delay installing appropriate pollution controls to meet environmental obligations.”
In May 2020, Tesoro suspended operations at the Martinez refinery and then announced its plan to convert the refinery to a renewable fuels plant. Today’s agreement includes requirements to limit air pollution from the future renewable fuels plant. The agreement does not prohibit Tesoro from resuming petroleum refining, but if it does so, Tesoro must install specific air pollution control technology, at an expected cost of $125 million, to ensure stringent NOX emission limits are met.
“Tesoro failed to meet its requirement to reduce air pollution at the Martinez refinery, and EPA is now taking firm action to hold Tesoro accountable,” said Regional Administrator Martha Guzman of the EPA Pacific Southwest. “This settlement ensures that Tesoro complies with stringent air pollution limits, to protect neighboring communities regardless of fuel type.”
To mitigate pollution resulting from its violation of the 2016 consent decree, Tesoro agreed to surrender most of its existing NOX emission trading credits. Tesoro also agreed to forego almost all trading credits from the shutdown of petroleum refining equipment should it convert to a renewable fuels plant. A company can receive emission credits by shutting down equipment and then apply such credits to offset emissions from new projects or trade such credits to other companies for their use. By requiring Tesoro to surrender existing credits and forego petroleum-related shutdown credits if it converts to a renewable fuels plant, the settlement prevents Tesoro and other local sources from using these credits. As a result, the settlement filed today will limit emissions in the San Francisco Bay area.
Specifically, if Tesoro resumes petroleum refining, the settlement requirements will reduce annual air emissions by about 261 metric tons of NOX. If Tesoro converts the facility to a renewable fuels plant, the settlement will result in annual air emissions reductions of about 440 tons of NOX, 327 tons of sulfur dioxide, 697 tons of carbon monoxide, 69 tons of volatile organic compounds, 301 tons of fine particulate matter and the equivalent of 1,342,025 tons of carbon dioxide.
The terms of a 2016 federal consent decree, which resolved Clean Air Act violations at the Martinez refinery and five other refineries nationwide, established emission limits for multiple pollutants including NOX. The settlement announced today, which will modify the 2016 settlement, includes new requirements that apply whether Tesoro chooses to reopen the Martinez facility as a petroleum refinery or a renewable fuels plant.
There will be a 30-day public comment period on the modification to the 2016 settlement. Information on how to comment on the modification will be available in the Federal Register and at www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.
EPA Takes First-Ever Federal Clean Water Act Enforcement Action To Address PFAS Discharges at Washington Works Facility Near Parkersburg, WV.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the Chemours Company to take corrective measures to address pollution from per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in stormwater and effluent discharges from the Washington Works facility near Parkersburg. The order on consent also directs Chemours to characterize the extent of PFAS contamination from discharges.
This is the first EPA Clean Water Act enforcement action ever taken to hold polluters accountable for discharging PFAS into the environment. PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s. There are thousands of different PFAS chemicals, some of which have been more widely used and studied than others. 
According to the EPA order, PFAS levels in the discharges from the facility exceed levels that are set in the facility’s Clean Water Act permit.
“Administrator Regan has directed EPA staff to use every enforcement tool at our disposal to compel manufacturers of PFAS to characterize, control, and clean up ongoing and past PFAS contamination,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Through this order, EPA is taking action to address PFAS violations and better protect the resources and people of West Virginia.”
“The Parkersburg community has a long history with this facility and the ever-present threat of PFAS pollution,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz. “This order demonstrates that EPA will take action to safeguard public health and the environment from these dangerous contaminants.”
Under the Clean Water Act, it is unlawful to discharge pollutants into U.S. waterways except pursuant to a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, issued by EPA or a state. The permit sets pollution discharge limits, monitoring and reporting requirements, and other conditions designed to protect water quality. More information on the NPDES program.
Chemours operates several manufacturing units at the Washington Works facility, which produce fluorinated organic chemical products including fluoropolymers. The facility discharges industrial process water and stormwater to the Ohio River and its tributaries, under the terms of a NPDES permit issued in 2018 by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company was the NPDES permit holder at Washington Works until 2015. In 2015, the permit was transferred to Chemours.
The permit imposes discharge limits and requires monitoring of certain pollutants, including PFAS such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which was used in the past as a processing aid for manufacturing, and HFPO Dimer Acid, also known as GenX -- which replaced PFOA as a processing aid.
In an administrative compliance order on consent (AOC) issued today, EPA sets forth that this facility exceeded permit effluent limits for PFOA and HFPO Dimer Acid on various dates from September 2018 through March 2023, and that Chemours failed to properly operate and maintain all facilities and systems required for permit compliance.
As an initial step in characterizing PFAS in surface water discharges, EPA’s order requires Chemours to implement an EPA-approved sampling plan to analyze PFAS and conduct analysis to further understand the presence of PFAS in stormwater and effluent discharged from the facility. Also, Chemours will submit and implement a plan to treat or minimize the discharge of PFAS to ensure compliance with numeric effluent limits of PFOA and HFPO Dimer Acid.
In addition, to identify best practices to reduce PFAS discharges from the site, Chemours will submit its existing Standard Operating Procedures relating to the management of wastewater for various systems and its revised Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan.
Eni US Operating Company Pays $113K Penalty for Beaufort Sea Waste Injection Violations
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that Eni US Operating Company paid a $113,000 penalty for failing to comply with Safe Drinking Water Act requirements at its Spy Island Drill Site, a man-made island in the Beaufort Sea approximately 40 miles north of Prudhoe Bay.
Eni US Operating Company received U.S. Department of Interior permits in 2017 to conduct exploration activities at Spy Island. Eni and other oilfield operators are also required to comply with an EPA-issued Underground Injection Control permit which sets strict conditions on the operation of underground injection wells for disposal of non-hazardous waste such as drilling muds, a common waste stream that may contain salts, heavy metals, petroleum residue, and other compounds that may present negative impacts to aquifers. 
EPA’s UIC permit also prescribes specific actions operators must take when a failure occurs. For example, injection cannot occur if a well is unable to demonstrate “mechanical integrity,” a term which refers to the proper construction and operations of well components to ensure injected fluids do not migrate outside of the approved injection zone. Upon discovery of failure of mechanical components, fluid injection must stop and may not commence until the integrity is returned to the well and injection is once again approved by EPA.
Continued injection during a loss of mechanical integrity creates a higher risk of injection fluids migrating to shallow aquifers or the surface, presenting a risk of contamination and a possible health and safety concern for workers. In this case, the company’s violations created potential risk to the fragile Beaufort Sea ecosystem.
EPA and Eni US Operating Company resolved this matter through a Consent Agreement and Final Order, which included the assessment of a $113,000 penalty and alleged the following violations of the Underground Injection Control provisions of the SDWA:
  • Unauthorized injection during loss of mechanical integrity;
  • Injection pressures allowed to exceed allowable limits;
  • Failure to continually monitor injection rates;
  • Failure to maintain continuous monitoring device; and
  • Failure to properly maintain the facility.
DuPont and Former Employee Sentenced for Plant explosion that Killed Four  
E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company Inc. (DuPont) pleaded guilty and has been sentenced for criminal negligence in connection with a 2014 accident that left four company employees dead, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.
On Nov. 15, 2014, DuPont released approximately 24,000 pounds of a highly toxic, flammable gas called methyl mercaptan (MeSH) into the air. In addition to killing the four, the chemical release injured other DuPont employees and travelled downwind into the surrounding areas.
The company pleaded guilty today along with Kenneth Sandel, 52, Friendswood, unit operations leader of the Insecticide Business Unit (IBU) where the accident occurred.
U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered DuPont to pay a $12 million penalty. The company must also serve two years of probation during which time the company must give the U.S. Probation Office full access to all of its operating locations. Judge Rosenthal also ordered Sandel to serve one year of probation. At the hearing, the court asked DuPont’s corporate representative whether the company had to publicly disclose their conviction, noting the importance of that fact.
They will also make a $4 million community service payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to address the harm they caused by funding projects that benefit air quality in and around areas adjacent to the western shores of Galveston Bay.
As a result of this case and other related civil cases tied to the explosion, DuPont will have paid a total of $19.26 million for its unlawful conduct.
“The failure to follow required chemical safety procedures at Dupont’s La Porte facility resulted in the deaths of four employees,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case demonstrates the importance of holding chemical facilities accountable for implementing chemical safety requirements that are designed to protect workers and neighboring communities.”
“Four employees are dead because of DuPont’s criminal negligence,” said Hamdani. “The sentence imposed today sends a clear message of my office’s dedication to holding managers at industrial facilities, and the corporations that own and operate those facilities, accountable for violations of federal criminal laws; laws meant to protect the safety of workers and nearby communities.”
DuPont is headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, and owns chemical manufacturing plants around the world including a facility in La Porte. As part of its operations, the facility produces pesticides called Lannate and Vydate among other products.
The release of the MeSH on Nov. 15, 2014, resulted in the introduction of the pesticides into the air which travelled downwind into the city of Deer Park and beyond. In addition to killing the four employees, several others were injured.
The fatal accident occurred after an employee inadvertently left open a piping valve which caused a slushy material to block the flow of liquid MeSH into the Lannate process. To melt it, DuPont day shift employees began applying hot water to the outside of the blocked piping and opened other valves to vent MeSH gas into a waste gas system. However, the MeSH piping was still blocked at the end of the day.
As the IBU leader, Sandel was responsible for ensuring shift supervisors, operators and engineers understood and complied with government safety, health and environmental regulations. Specifically, Sandel was responsible for implementing a safety procedure at the IBU by making sure employees understood and followed the procedure’s requirements and did not release toxic chemicals inappropriately to the environment.
Sandel and other employees failed to provide sufficient instructions to the oncoming shift for how to safely clear remaining blockage. It finally cleared early the next morning, and a large volume of liquid MeSH began flowing into the waste gas system. At that time, an employee mistakenly believed the waste gas system only contained materials present during normal operations and opened valves that resulted in the release of the toxic gas.
Records indicate employees at DuPont’s LaPorte plant disregarded a federally mandated safety procedure when opening those valves on the waste system. Sandel should have known operators did not have a safe and effective way to drain the vent system and should have prevented it from happening.
As part of the pleas, DuPont and Sandel admitted to negligently releasing an extremely hazardous substance into the ambient air. The company also acknowledged negligently placing a person in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.
The IBU has since been demolished.
The charges against DuPont and Sandel are part of an EPA initiative titled Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities. EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Texas conducted the investigation with assistance from the Texas Environmental Enforcement Task Force.
EPA Settlement with Arctic Glacier USA Resolves Chemical Emergency Release Notification Violations at Grayling, Michigan Facility
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Arctic Glacier USA Inc. will pay penalties totaling $232,593 to resolve alleged violations of federal requirements to report on the releases of hazardous substances. The settlement follows a release of ammonia resulting from a pipe failure at the company’s ice manufacturing facility in Grayling, Michigan.
EPA alleges Arctic Glacier violated the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) by failing to report a release of 1,580 pounds of anhydrous ammonia from its facility on June 3, 2022. Under EPCRA, anhydrous ammonia qualifies as an “extremely hazardous substance” and facilities are required to report the details of releases that exceed 100 pounds. The company failed to provide immediate notification of the release to the National Response Center, state and local authorities, and the written follow-up notification to state and local emergency response agencies.
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